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Documentaries of the Free Speech Movement

We invite visitors to send reviews and reflections on these documentaries, old and new, that we may put online. We hope to offer a variety of views, from teachers, students, historians, and veterans; and invite opinions differing from the notes below.

Some of these and other films are available for viewing on the Bancroft site here.

Is Freedom Academic? (1965)

This hour-long program was produced by the community-sponsored FM station KPFA in Berkeley for broadcast in early 1965, and distributed on a 12" long-playing record. After a sketchy introduction to the context and issue, it presents methodical documentation of the final sit-in, highlighting the brutal arrests and barring of the press; a bouquet of statements from officials; and extensive coverage of the intense debate and vote in the Academic Senate. At its best, in weaving together direct recording of speeches and commotions, reporters' simultaneous commentaries, and on-the-spot interviews, the program offers a luminous example of community radio at work. Save for Savio's brief, famous speech, it includes little material from or about the FSM itself. The program is available as a cassette tape from Pacific Foundation in Los Angeles.

The Berkeley Rebels (1965)

CBS News filmed this hour-long "Special Report" in late spring, 1965. The quasi-documentary focuses on two men and two women from the FSM's leadership, as they talk about the recent conflict, their broad views and philosophies, while going about a semi-staged version of their student lives. As the film's producers were ardent liberals who idealized the FSM, their product romanticized and sanitized its participants. National broadcast was delayed by CBS heads until heavy-handed, admonitory commentary by the network's resident mainstream pundit (Harry Reasoner) could be spliced in as a narrative frame. The result was an uncomfortable hybrid, yet more profound as journalism than either its producers or its censors intended, recording a tension of irreconcilable views on the morning of its swift amplification, as the impulse of the FSM led on to the anti-war movement and the counter-culture.

Berkeley in the Sixties (1989)

Mark Kitchell's two-hour survey of this complex era weaves together rich interviews of veterans, filmed in 1988, with original footage from mass-media coverage. The film's strongest and most detailed section, running nearly forty minutes, narrates the public story of the conflict from a perspective of complete sympathy with the FSM, with reflective commentary by veterans intercut with their images and words half a life earlier. Though unashamedly partisan, the result remains a vivid and worthy introduction to the issues and action of the FSM. (And a useful one to the decade as a whole, though its treatment of other local phases is briefer and often less adequate.) Broadcast first in 1989, the film is still shown occasionally by PBS and other community-oriented television stations. We hope to make videotape copies available by order through this website.

In preparation for the film, from 1984 on Kitchell conducted wide-ranging audiotaped interviews with some fifty people active in the events it retraced. His raw footage for the film interviewed some twenty again, at twenty times the length of final cut. In his interviews with FSM veterans, as with the others, the FSM appears in double perspective -- in the flow of public history, from well before it to long after, and in the flow of personal lives. As permissions are granted and help is found to digitalize them, we will make the transcripts of these interviews available online, through links here and elsewhere on the site.

FREE@30 (1996)

At the 30th anniversary reunion of the FSM in 1994, film-makers Ron Dexter and Doug Gilles of Consensus Designs were invited to interview FSM veterans. Their raw stock recorded fifteen hours of gently-prompted reflection by twenty-five attendees. From this and some original media footage, they produced an hour-long documentary, completing the first cut in time to premiere at Mario Savio's memorial. Though the film evokes the historical event and includes some serious reflection, its focus is on the FSM's veterans in the present, portraying them sympathetically as active and engaged, enlivened by the consequences of their youthful commitments. Though twelve appear in the film, it pivots around Mario Savio, fully one-third being devoted to sections of a quite remarkable interview of Mario with a sidekick, in perhaps the most personal moments of him ever filmed, that serve as a vivid epitaph. Videotape copies of FREE@30 will be available by order through this website. Some portions of Mario's testimony in the film appear here already. We hope for help in making transcripts of the entire body of interviews available online.


  This page last changed 16 July, 2001


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