BluRay/DVD Reviews

BERKELEY IN THE SIXTIES

By • Dec 10th, 2002 •

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The recent anti-Bush/war demonstrations spark deja-vu in anybody over forty, anybody who can clearly remember the similar Vietnam era anti-war demonstrations three decades ago. Mark Kitchell’s documentary, BERKELEY IN THE SIXTIES, vividly brings the 1960’s sit-in’s, marches and riots home.

There’s plenty of archival footage of student demonstrations on California’s Berkeley campus, footage so clear, it seems they were lensed only an hour ago. We begin with Berkeley students protesting the HUAC witch-hunts, battling with fire-hose wielding police in 1960, years before marches and sit-ins became commonplace.

We intercut between 1960’s demonstration footage and recent interviews with key demonstrators. The period footage shows mostly affluent white students speaking out and marching for equal rights for black workers in the early sixties. A few years pass, and some of the same students are marching against America’s Vietnam involvement. From there, the Berkeley students tackle issues involving Women’s liberation and the environment. One would think the Berkeley campus from 1960 to 1970 housed “Demonstrators, Inc.”, students ready to march against whatever came along.

This documentary will kick-start debates on whether Berkeley demonstrators were wealthy neglected kids needing to feel they belonged to a cause, or young intellectuals not afraid to bring a change. We see student demonstrators like Mario Savio (who has so much footage here, he unknowingly became the film’s star) with total sincerity in his powerful lungs, shout out his leftist beliefs. We also see then Governor Ronald Reagan, using his Hollywood trained voice, to offer his right-wing counter-attack.

Memorials and tributes to Mario Savio have multiplied on Berkeley’s campus since his death from heart failure in 1996, six years after this documentary was made. It is interesting to note that Savio had an outstanding academic record, but his “trouble-making” speeches, many of which are found here, caused him to be thrown out of Berkeley.

Bravo to the people who researched and found some fascinating, sometimes violent visual material, such as demonstrators taking on the Oakland police on deserted streets circa 1968. The selections of period music is perfect (you would have to go out of your way to foul up the music department in a sixties docu.) We are treated to healthy portions of Joan Baez, The Grateful Dead, Country Joe and The Fish and Jimi Hendrix.

Kitchell doesn’t beg you to side with the demonstrators, nor does he condemn them. His interviews and footage library simply and wisely just observes.


Credits:
Directed and Produced by Mark Kitchell
Edited by Veronica Selver
First Run Features

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