Concerned by rumours that the FBI had infiltrated all elements of the counterculture in order to disrupt, surveil and undermine, a group of citizens in Philadelphia hatched a plan. To expose the abuses of law enforcement they engineered a break-in at a small Pennsylvania office with minimal security. They entered on the night of a big boxing match and left with every file in the office.
Despite a massive response, they were never caught. And they never revealed their story until now.
1971 documents this fantastic feat and the fascinating, committed characters who put it together. Some were hardcore political radicals who had been involved in civil disobedience before. Some were parents with young children. The leader was a university professor and outspoken opponent of the Vietnam war. Most of those involved speak at length to Johanna Hamilton who made this engrossing documentary film. Contemporary footage is used to excellent effect and even the limited dramatic re-enactments are gripping rather than distracting. The narrative unfolds clearly and the many complex elements and repercussions are well probed. The characters are committed and smart, very easy to root for and also make for great entertainment.
The effects of the theft were far-reaching. The group photocopied the many documents which detailed illegal surveillance and mailed them to politicians and press. Only the Washington Post was courageous enough to run the story. The public was appalled and the FBI was investigated for the first time by Congress and reforms put in place. One member of the group, though, felt that their discovery actually led to more aviary as the public became jaded to political impropriety.
It was unfortunate that, due to illness, the filmmaker was not in attendance because this is obviously a film with a backstory as fascinating as the tale on screen.