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:: The Weather Underground

Way before September 11 and the bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City, in the late ‘60s and ‘70s, there was a group of American revolutionaries who aimed to overthrow the United States government by blowing up a couple buildings. This was in retaliation for the US government’s crimes against humanity committed in Vietnam, the racism and oppression of Black Americans, and the abuse of wealth and privileges of the white capitalist class. They called themselves: The Weather Underground.

They were a group of young, idealistic university students who broke away from the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) based at the University of Chicago, when it appeared that peaceful protests was not stopping the Vietnam war. Nor was it changing the fabric of the US government and American society. Using talking heads and archival footage, the directors have hewn together a compelling and provocative story of subversion in modern American history, helped by some very colourful characters, who remain unrepentant of their actions and their beliefs.

There’s the group’s charismatic spokesperson, Bernadine Dohrn, a law-school graduate, stalwarts Mark Rudd and Bill Ayers, the contemplative Brian Flanagan, the quiet but resilient Naomi Jaffe, Laura Whitehorn and David Gilbert, who is serving a life sentence for a botched robbery. The group bombed a number of public buildings like the US Capitol building without causing any fatalities. However, the fact that they managed to evade the FBI beggars belief.

The candour of the Weather Underground members on the perspective of their actions thirty years later and the anecdotes of their revolutionary zeal, reveal personal shortcomings, sacrifices and misguided nobility. Some of their anarchistic ideals are truly laughable like ‘smashing monogamy’, in which, members were encouraged to have group sex in order to become selfless individuals. Flanagan’s dour delivery when he recounts this manifesto, juxtaposed with some neat orgy footage in a combi hurtling down a freeway, is one of the film’s sublimely humorous moments.

When Directors Sam Green and Bill Siegel started to work on this documentary five years ago, Weather Underground was virtually unknown to a whole generation of under 40, a result of going underground too successfully. Nor did the directors envisage that terrorism on American soil would resurface as America’s bogeyman after decades of consumerism and capital growth, which by then had engendered a sense of complacency amongst Americans.

The same criticism of American responsibility for global inequalities and controlling economic interests raised by the Weather Underground, still resonate today. Sadly, the directors don’t resolve the question whether violence ever is justified in the pursuit of social change. This is probably, the defining flaw of an otherwise articulate and entertaining film.

Screening at Lumiere Cinemas