1971 Wins IDA Documentary Award

1971 wins ABCNews VideoSource Award for archival footage at the 30th annual Independent Documentary Association Awards held at the Paramount Theatre on December 5th 2014. Click here to read full list of winners.

Herald Sun: ‘1971’ is a piece of history and a thriller

by Cliff Bellamy


In 1971, long hair and other outward signs of the political spirit of the 1960s had become mainstream. Opposition to the Vietnam War remained strong, and that year, a group of eight citizens living in and around Philadelphia who were anti-war activists staged a well-planned break-in of an FBI field office in nearby Media, Pennsylvania.

They stole files from the office, and what they found confirmed what many in the protest movement (known at the time as the New Left) suspected: That the FBI was spying on U.S. citizens involved in these groups, and using “dirty tricks” to infiltrate and disrupt their work. The burglars called themselves the Citizens Commission to Investigate the FBI, and decided that the best way to confront the FBI’s tactics was to mail copies of the documents to national newspapers. The release of the documents led to the Church Committee hearings of 1975, the first congressional investigation of intelligence agencies, and the first guidelines limiting FBI powers.

There were originally nine members of the Citizens Commission, but one individual dropped out. The FBI never found or charged the eight burglars, who have never talked about the burglary until director Johanna Hamilton’s documentary, “1971.” For the first time, the known members of the group (the filmmaker in the credits states that she does not know the names of the other three participants) are interviewed and tell their stories: Keith Forsyth, Bonnie and John Raines, Bob Williamson, and Bill Davidon, the group’s de facto leader (who died before release of the film).

Hamilton (who got a Full Frame Garrett Scott Grant to help make the film) has given viewers not just a breakthrough piece of history, but one heck of a suspense thriller. The filmmaker uses actors to portray the crucial scenes of the burglary – everything from Bonnie Raines’ posing as a college student seeking career advice to help scout out the building, to Forsyth’s nerve-wracking efforts to gain entry into an office blocked by a filing cabinet. (There is some humor in that scene: While Forsyth is breaking in, the building manager is sitting in the basement watching the Ali-Frazier fight on TV.) Hamilton uses news footage, archival footage, and home movies of some of the subjects. She also interviews former Washington Post reporter Betty Medsger, the first reporter to receive and write about the files, and former NBC reporter Carl Stern, who sued the Justice Department to get more of the secret files about the operation called COINTELPRO.

The members of this commission had lives, jobs and in the case of the Raineses, children, and took considerable risks. You may have conflicting feelings about this burglary, but Hamilton’s film also asks us to imagine what the consequences might be had they not taken this risk.

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Indiewire: Michael Moore Wants The World To Watch ‘1971’ Today

August 1, 2014

Academy Award-winning documentarian Michael Moore is celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Traverse City Film Festival today with a worldwide screening of one of his favorite documentaries of the year, Johanna Hamilton’s “1971.” In July, Moore enlisted the help of his Facebook friends and Twitter followers to find venues around the world that would participate in this global event, which includes not only a screening of the documentary but also a live discussion and Q&A with the filmmakers and subjects of the film. The event takes place today at 3pm and includes theaters in England, Australia, Norway, China, Australia and Malawi.

For Moore, who founded the TCFF in 2005 in order to create a festival by a filmmaker for filmmakers, the purpose behind the multiple continent screening is, in his own words, “To take the TC Film Fest beyond its borders and see what kind of global village we can create around watching a great, thought-provoking and discussion-stimulating movie.” In addition to the screening and Q&A session, audiences in participating theaters will be able to see and hear one another as they settle in to watch the movie.

Directed by Hamilton (“Pray The Devil Back to Hell”) and executive produced by Academy-Award nominee Laura Poitras (“My Country, My Country”), “1971” is the true story of a brave group of ordinary citizens who risked their lives to expose the massive, unlawful surveillance program by J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI at the height of the Vietnam War.

Combining reenactments and archival footage, “1971” is about “The Citizen’s Committee to Investigate the FBI,” who confess on camera for the first time ever to breaking into the FBI field office, confiscating thousands of secret files and leaking them to the press. Told like a riveting heist movie, the documentary reveals a large-scale FBI spying operation of political activists and civil rights leaders known as COINTELPRO. Cargo Releasing nabbed global distribution rights to “1971” following its world premiere at Tribeca Film Festival.

The idea is quite ambitious, but it follows in the footsteps of another groundbreaking announcement at the festival. At the opening night gala of the TCFF on July 29th, Moore gave a quarter of a million dollars to the festival, an amount that represents the remaining earnings from his first movie, “Roger & Me.” “I wanted to do something special, something big to honor all the good over the years that has resulted from my first film,” said Moore. “This donation will be used specifically to address the lack of access across most of the country for people who want to go to a movie theater and see a foreign film or a documentary.”

The Traverse City Film Festival runs through August 3rd.

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Variety: Film Review

A well-constructed, vividly detailed account of the FBI break-in that exposed the agency’s shocking illegal practices to the public.

Joanna Hamilton’s well-constructed documentary “1971” showcases ordinary people who broke into a local FBI office, stole all the files and published them, thereby revealing to the unsuspecting American public the shocking illegal practices of J. Edgar Hoover’s agency. Despite an intensive five-year manhunt, the whistleblowers were never caught: “This,” to quote the film, “is their story.” Told through interviews with five of those involved, copious archival footage and detailed re-enactments of the political heist, the film offers surprisingly cogent, lived-in evocations of a period too often glossed over in impersonal, by-the-book montages. Forty-three years later, “1971” merits an arthouse run.

With the aid of historical artifacts and the memories of her protagonists, Hamilton vividly sets the scene. Nowadays, with global atrocities, governmental malfeasance and miscarriages of justice filling the news daily, it may be hard to grasp the profound impact of the late ’60s on a prosperous, complacent nation hitherto sure of its moral high ground. As one of the five highlighted activists recalls, 1968 alone brought the Tet offensive, the My Lai massacre and the assassinations of both Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy. Sentiment against the Vietnam War was running high, and the country was seemingly spinning out of control.
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