The theft of FBI documents and the backlash is the topic of the documentary 1971. On March 8, 1971, a group of activists broke into the FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania and took off with hundreds of files. The documents, which were later leaked to the media, revealed illegal surveillance activities that were being performed by the FBI, which eventually resulted in a Congressional investigation. After 40 years, the perpetrators of this crime, who called themselves The Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI, have broken their silence.
The tagline for Johanna Hamilton’s documentary 1971 states that “Before Watergate, WikiLeaks, and Edward Snowden, there was Media, Pennsylvania.” The crime at the centre of 1971 is supposedly the first major leak of documents detailing the illegal activities of government agencies. The investigations that came as the result of this leak made later investigations, such as Watergate, possible. However, it also served to validate many people’s fears of the FBI, which resulted in an increase of cynicism.
It is an interesting coincidence that 1971 is being released so soon after the Oscar win for Citizenfour and I wouldn’t be surprised if there are more similarly themed documentaries to come in the future, such as when there were countless environmental docs following An Inconvenient Truth. I have to say that I enjoyed the presentation of 1971 much better that Citizenfour. While the latter does show a leak as it’s happening, as opposed to reminiscing about it four decades later, I was never a fan of Citizenfour’s highly paranoid tone. Since so much time has passed from the events of 1971, it is able to be presented much more like an espionage film.
Built around talking head interviews with the perpetrators, 1971 uses re-enactments to recreate the events leading to, and including, the crime. While they don’t have a Hollywood-level production value, these re-enactments are still quite effective at building suspense, specially early on during the crime when things didn’t seem to be going right. Then came the backlash and FBI manhunt, which caused all of those involved to fear that they would be caught and thrown in jail for the rest of their lives.
It is definitely interesting that those involved with this crime have decided to break their silence about it. Presumably, since the case has long since closed, everyone would have now been free from prosecution, due to the statute of limitations passing. The crime was still a huge risk for those involved and there are many moments when it seemed like they would be found out.
Altogether, 1971 is an interesting, and even entertaining, look at this first major FBI leak.★ ★ ★ ★ | LIKED IT