NEW YORK (Reuters) - A film about violent U.S. anti-Vietnam War protests in 1968 is not just another nostalgic Sixties movie, says director Brett Morgen, but instead seeks to reflect current opposition to wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“Chicago 10” looks at the anti-war protests during the 1968 Democratic Convention and the ensuing circus trial of the “Chicago Seven” activists, including Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, which gained national attention.
Morgen told Reuters that he came up with the idea for the film, set against an historical backdrop not featured in the movie of politicians clashing over the Vietnam War, when the United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003.
“There is a war going on and there is opposition to the war, and there is a government trying to silence the opposition,” Morgen said. “Ultimately I was telling a story about 2008, not 1968. And I was appropriating iconography and imagery from 1968 to tell the story about the current war.”
Critics have praised the film as innovative for blending archival television footage with animation to reenact the trial and protests. The soundtrack features performers including Rage Against The Machine and Eminem to target a younger audience.
The Washington Post said it “breathes new life into a film genre that usually has all the imagination and verve of a visit to Madame Tussauds” and The Los Angeles Times said it succeeded in making the events interesting to a younger generation.
Morgen persuaded top actors to voice the animated figures, including Nick Nolte, Mark Ruffalo, Liev Schreiber, Jeffrey Wright and Hank Azaria, who plays Hoffman.
Hoffman was arrested during the convention and tried with six others for conspiracy and inciting riots. The two defense lawyers, plus Black Panther Party activist Bobby Seale, who was bound and gagged in the court and eventually severed from the case, make up the 10 referred to in film’s title.
Azaria told Reuters he agreed to the project because of its value “historically and socially.” Steven Spielberg plans to turn the story into a major Hollywood film.
“It certainly wasn’t for the money,” Azaria said. “It’s OK to speak out about what you think this country is doing wrong and it doesn’t make you un-American.”
But some U.S. critics condemned the omission of key historical figures of the time, such as anti-war Democratic presidential candidate Eugene McCarthy, who failed to win his party’s nomination in 1968, and Sen. Robert Kennedy.
Morgen said this criticism was unfair as the film, which is playing in New York and Los Angeles and opens in other U.S. cities later this month, is “not a historical documentary,” but a modern day mythology.
“European audiences have been far more open to my interpretation of history than certain factions of the audience in the States are,” he said, citing parallels that Europeans saw between the violent 1968 protests and demonstrations at 1999 World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle and in China’s Tiananmen Square in 1989.
Rather, the film is meant to inspire students about the importance of social activism, he said.
“One of the lessons of this film is how this whole thing started with three guys sitting around smoking pot. They did not have degrees in protesting,” he said. “I hope this film empowers them.”
Editing by Michelle Nichols and Eric Walsh