June 10, 2015 by Liza Lou
I have to be straight before even start this and say that documentary films are not within my comfort zone. It isn’t that I don’t like them or anything because let’s be honest I will watch anything that holds my attention for long enough. Instead I think, at least for me, one has to have a little bit of knowledge tucked away about the films subject in order to really understand. In the case of 1971, apart from a quick research google, I had none.
The film is the directional debut of Johanna Hamilton who I’m afraid again I knew nothing about. What I do know something about though is the pull of indie cinema with it’s films that pop up and pop off again so fast that you simply have to see them. I found an article over at Indie Wire which gave me the gist about Hamilton and where she named Deer Hunter as a cinematic influence. I’ve seen that I thought, and I liked it. That was good enough for me!
1971 focuses on events in that year, on March 8th to be precise, when a group of seemingly ordinary people broke into an FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania. They then proceeded to steal all the files and then over time out them through various newsrooms. Although the subjects of the files differed one the most significant involved illegal practises of J. Edgar Hoover’s agency.
Hamilton sets 1971 up to tell the story of that group of people and in fact uses interviews with five of them along with a lot of archival footage as the meat of the film. The story is put into context as the audience is asked to contemplate just what impact unfolded on public. You can’t help but compare to today’s opinion government corruption and this changes what could of been seen as a family documentary into a hard hitting scoop or secret. I must say too that there was more than once, as I heard the personalised accounts, that I literally gasped for air. I found it riveting, more so because it actually happened. I felt like I was watching a bloody great thriller movie that was well constructed and brilliantly shot.
The only let down for me was the reenactment scenes that I guess were put there as a visual aid. They didn’t really add anything if I am honest and the acting wasn’t great. Luckily they didn’t distract too much from the retelling of a piece of history that by the end I cared about.