Sundance 2007 officially started last night, with screenings of this year’s most-hyped premier, the animated documentary Chicago 10. The film centers on the famed Chicago Seven trial, in which eight (yeah, seven? Eight? Ten? I don’t get it either) self-described “yippies” were put on trial for organizing protests at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. At the height of the Vietnam War, thousands of forward-thinking activists, wayward youths, and yes, dirty hippies poured into Chicago to protest Democratic complacency (not that we’d understand that). The protests, violence, and resulting trial were seminal events of the ’60s, inspiring revolutionary outcry against oppression at home and abroad and publicly highlighting systemic injustice.
Through an impressive assortment of archival footage, accompanied by animated characters recreating the events of the trial and protests that weren’t recorded on film, the movie does an impressive job of retelling past events without the oft-problematic boring factor inherent in so many historical documentaries. It’s a rare event for Sundance to open with a documentary, but this one has the edginess the festival’s directors want to espouse.
Watching the film, I was both captivated and annoyed. Captivated because the film does an excellent job showing the revolutionary spirit alive in the U.S. in 1968, a spirit I missed by a good decade and a half, and a spirit I wish I saw more of among my peers. It’s inspiring to see thousands of people united for a common goal — in this case ending the Vietnam War. I’ve often wished there was more unity, collective impetus to take visible action, or just more visible action, period, on the many issues that we should be hyped about: Iraq, climate change, health care, continuing racial and socioeconomic injustice.
But at the same time, I was pretty miffed. I’ve seen enough films on ’60s-era activism, and the glorification of that time period seems overwrought and underdeserved. I’m tired of talented young filmmakers (and the packed house at last night’s premiere) wasting their time on 30-year-old thrice-told tales.
If we want to change today’s reality, and be taken seriously in the process, focusing on outdated models of action and activism might be inspirational, but it’s also ineffective. Otherwise we’re left toiling in dirty hippie land.
Ranting aside, the festival plugs forward, and adventures in Utah continue.