Berkeley In The Sixties (1990)


Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB

USA, 1990, Screenplay by , , . Cinematography by Produced by Mark Kitchell.  Film Editing by .

Students from the Berkeley campus of the University of Southern California were enraged by the HUAC hearings in the early sixties, attending trials and holding noisy protests, and the reaction they got from authorities, hosing them down and dragging them out in an effort to dampen their enthusiasm, had a galvanizing effect. The decade of unrest that followed these efforts began with university students reacting to what they saw as poor communication with their own overseers at their schools, then developed further as young people got involved in anti-war activism and the counterculture that came with it towards the end of the decade.

This comprehensive documentary speaks to individuals from the era who have not lost the faith, having developed their political convictions further since their school days into continuing to fight for social justice in America, and their recollections are vivid and powerful. What makes Mark Kitchell’s documentary so interesting is that there is neither a voice of assent or criticism coming from behind the camera, the moments in history, enriched by a great deal of footage, are presented objectively as both the pipe dreams of idealistic youth as well as powerful, disturbing events that changed America.

Kitchell isn’t afraid to address the problematic aspects of the Haight Ashbury movement, with splintering occurring among liberal advocates towards the end of the decade as issues of race and gender shake the ground upon which hippy culture and Vietnam protest stand upon, and, by the end, there is no decision made about just how effective these particular people from this particular time were in accomplishing their goals; on the one hand, you can’t imagine the rest of the twentieth century without them, on the other hand, the clip of Ronald Reagan upbraiding the university heads who let the situation get out of hand is a vindictive treat.

It would be interesting if the film could have included the perspective of more than just the people who successfully transitioned into careers in activism, Kitchell doesn’t have much space for the Big Chill yuppies who slid right into their capitalist goals as soon as their heyday of school was over, but for what it presents, this is a thoughtful film that goes well beyond just tickling your fancy with its presentation of goofy, far-out clothes and gestures, and takes a look at a moment in a nation’s history where change was inevitable.

Academy Award Nomination:  Best Documentary Feature


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