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The Weather Underground

Directors: Sam Green, Bill Siegel

Topic: A chronicle of the radical American militants from the 1960s and ’70s known as the Weather Underground

Financier: ITVS, KQED Public TV, other grants and foundations such as Creative Capital

Budget: $250,000

Shooting format: Mini-DV, 16mm, 8mm

Why it made the list: Striking archival footage; compelling chronological arc and intense moral question at its core: Can violence ever be justified for political purposes?

Memorable scenes: Mark Rudd, former Students for a Democratic Society leader, confesses his deep internal struggle “to tease out what was right from what was wrong.” The film captures the powerful contrast between the Weathermen and women all grown up compared to their early days as idealistic and violent revolutionaries. Archival footage presents powerful doses of reality: When protesters are beaten and bloodied by riot police as they rush the Pentagon, and the blood-soaked bedsheets of murdered Black Panther leader Fred Hampton. There are also touching stories of the radicals saying goodbye to their parents before heading underground.

Distribution/broadcast status: In theatrical release from Shadow Distribution; opened at Film Forum in July; PBS will air in the spring.

Exposure to date: Sundance Film Festival docu competition; San Francisco Film Festival award for docu feature

On making the film: “As a teenager,” recalls Sam Green, “I’d always been interested in the Weather Underground, these Bonnie and Clyde characters trying to overthrow the government.” But as an adult, Green and co-director Bill Siegel, who met in the ’90s as researchers on a Muhammad Ali documentary, saw more complicated shades of good and evil in the Underground’s revolutionary struggle.

“I was really drawn to the moral ambiguity,” continues Green. “And these questions of what’s your responsibility when horrible things are being done in your name.”

Green and Siegel began the production in 1998 and were editing material during the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. After sitting dazed in front of the TV for a few days, they realized, says Green, “It was not possible to finish the film, because the subject of political violence was so charged that you couldn’t talk about it.”

But when the Bush administration began painting a very black-and-white picture of us vs. them post-9/11, the filmmakers soon changed their minds. “The film seemed more important and relevant than ever,” Green says.

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