The Weather Underground

dir. Green & Siegel

Opens Fri Oct 3

Cinema 21

In 1969, the Weather Underground went underground. An ensemble of college students spawned from the Students for a Democratic Society, the group began protesting racism and the atrocities in Vietnam--first by organizing communities and, eventually, by bombing buildings.

They were preparing for the revolution, which seemed likely given the civil unrest and general tumult during the '60s. The Weather Underground, an incredible film documenting their origins and years spent hiding, deftly conveys the events which turned that era into a pressure cooker, using rarely seen footage (most notably: Vietnam and the aftermath of Fred Hampton's murder) and current interviews with Weather Underground members.

Because of the nature of the WU--young, idealistic, naíve, hopeful, inspired--The Weather Underground is a film about ambiguity, and subsequently raises a lot of questions. For instance, the WU were fighting racism in Vietnam and the US, but after some of their direct actions turned destructive, the West Coast faction of the Black Panthers denounced them. They were bombing buildings--including the Capital--but, miraculously, they never killed civilians. They were righteous, and they were transgressive.

And yet, the directors refrain from moralizing, gracefully piecing together the story and keeping their own leanings out of it. In part, this is because their own leanings shifted in the course of making the film. According to co-director Sam Green, "I always approached this as a complicated story; a lot of what they did was great, but a lot of what they did was fucked up. The more I learned, the more I acknowledged the complexities of the situation; over time, [my viewpoint] just became more nuanced."

The Weather Underground offers a perspective into a history that's been mostly obscured--and Green, who is 37, made the film specifically for young people. "Everyone over 40 knows who the Weather Underground was, but almost nobody under 40 does. It's the same for all those things, like COINTELPRO. That's all part of American history. It'd be a shame were it all to just go away."