Berkeley in the Sixties


Berkeley in the Sixties

Directed and produced by Mark Kitchell

Kitchell Films in association with POV Theatrical Films. Colour and black and white, 16mm, 117 minutes. Rating PG.

State Film Theatre, East Melbourne. Valhalla, Sydney.

Reviewed by Melanie Sjoberg

Scenes of young people being hosed, dragged and bounced down the marble steps of City Hall open this dramatic account of the rise of the student, civil rights and antiwar movements of the '60s.

The film traces the rise of unrest from the catalyst of Operation Abolition, a government propaganda film purporting to identify a conspiracy against the McCarthyist House Un-American Activities Committee.

Activists from the period say the film became a recruiting tool for the protests, which initially centred on free speech.

Berkeley in the Sixties has some inspirational footage of a spontaneous demonstration to prevent the arrest of a key activist, Jack Weinberg (now coordinator of the Greenpeace Great Lakes Project). A steadily growing throng surrounds the police car trying to remove Weinberg, while the students calmly share an open microphone to debate the merits of the arrest.

Other scenes show heavily armed cops confronting non-violent student protests, and gas attacks from low-flying helicopters. Apparently Saddam Hussein wasn't the first leader to come up with the idea of gassing his own people!

There's also footage of the famous People's Park campaign, the rise of the counterculture and the development of links between students and the Black Panthers.

Berkeley in the Sixties is the result of six years' work by almost 100 volunteers. It's not a big budget production, though about 1000 people contributed some US$30,000 to make it possible.

This is two hours of gripping archival footage overlaid with commentary by activists of the period.

It features President Lyndon Johnson declaring himself for peace while preparing for war, and California Governor Ronald Reagan sputtering incoherently about a student dance that consisted of three bands playing simultaneously and movie screens with projected images of "coloured pulsating blobs".

The activist commentators include Black Panther Bobby Seale and Barry Melton of Country Joe and the Fish, who says that while the politicos wanted to march on Washington, "We didn't even want to know that it was there".