American history is filled with many fascinating moments, moments that have brought out the very best and very worst of humanity. The Cold War was an interesting time in the nation’s history and the new documentary 1971 focuses on a very specific event: March 8, 1971. On this date, a small group of civilians shook things up significantly by breaking into an FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania. This act of burglary was an attempt to expose some of J. Edgar Hoover shady agency’s many, many secrets. The film is both illuminating and gripping and even though it’s a documentary, it will have you on the edge of your seat because of its truly vivid cinematic style.
Hippies and other people who don’t trust the government can be the true voice of the “people”. More often than not, they are “pulse” and know exactly what kind of country they want to live in and what rules should govern them. 1971 brilliantly tells the story of the Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI, a small group of civilians whose mission, basically, was to expose the corruption and sketchy business of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Their only act, however, was breaking into an FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania, stealing sensitive documents and then mailing them to newspapers all over the United States.
The actions that the Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI were responsible for were pretty serious. During the burglary in Pennsylvania, the group stole secret documents related to COINTELPRO (Counter INTELigence PROgram), which was organized by J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI and was basically “protecting national security, preventing violence, and maintaining the existing social and political order.” The burglary left a dent in Hoover’s agency and prompted the FBI to reevaluate its security. Those involved in the break-in probably felt a strong sense of pride for what they did coupled with quite possibly an equally strong amount of shame in what their country was responsible for.
Based on participant Betsy Medsger’s book The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover’s Secret FBI, 1971 is as honest a documentary a can get. Up until 2014, the true identities of those involved in the break-in had been kept anonymous. Now, over 40 years later, the truth comes out and it does so in dark yet refreshing manner. The Vietnam War was a major force for those involved and anger and mistrust of the government ran rampant. 1971 highlights that distrust in gritty detail. With photos, archival footage, dramatic reenactments, and a subtle musical score, this is a film not to be missed.
Taking place on the same night as the “Fight of the Century” featuring Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, 1971 is a dramatic piece of filmmaking in every sense of the word. Newcomer filmmaker Johanna Hamilton has taken us on a visual journey and has expanded our knowledge of an important event in US history. Surveillance has been a huge issue in our nation’s history from Watergate to WikiLeaks to Edward Snowden. 1971 shines a light on a part of our history and dissects it in a way that will leave a profound mark on audiences and make you appreciate film all the more because it is a documentary about people made for people.