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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