Forty years before WikiLeaks and the NSA scandal, there was Media, Pennsylvania. In 1971, eight activists plotted an intricate break-in to the local FBI offices to leak stolen documents and expose the illegal surveillance of ordinary Americans in an era of anti-war activism. In this riveting heist story, the perpetrators reveal themselves for the first time, reflecting on their actions and raising broader questions surrounding security leaks in activism today.
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★★★★ review by Bob Hovey on Letterboxd
In 1971, a group of young people broke into an FBI office and stole every file and sent copies to the major newspapers. The effects of this single event snowballed, revealing the lengths to which the FBI had gone to subvert groups it considered dangerous (including anti-war, women's rights and civil rights groups), eventually resulting in the revelation that the FBI had not only violated the civil rights of innocent Americans, it had actually engaged in subversive activities of it's own (for example, the anonymous letter they sent to Martin Luther King suggesting that he "do the right thing" and commit suicide before he could be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize). The investigation into the break-in never resulted in any arrests, and after remaining undiscovered for more than 40 years, the participants have come forward to tell their stories in this documentary. As a film production it is fairly routine ... talking heads, still photos, news clips, highlighted documents. But in terms of content, it is spectacular ... it is an important document about an important but little-known event in our history.
★★★★ review by Aaron King on Letterboxd
A doc about a subject that seems to not really bring up which is that the FBI had gotten broken into in the 70s which helped to limit their power once the knowledge of what really is going on with them came out. It seems like the watergate scandal overshadows it and makes it seems less relevant but I think it is more important. It is an interesting turning point in the invasion of privacy. It puts into focus the scary events of the 70s. A wonderful 80 minutes spent.
★★★★ review by Hooded Justice on Letterboxd
"If all of us simply did what we thought was safe, that would let people who want to take our government away from us get away. They would be safe, we wouldn't be safe." --Bill, ringleader of the Citizens' Committee to Investigate the FBI
It's kind of surreal to watch this on the day the sitting president's idiot son released documents on Twitter implicating himself, his father's former campaign chair, and his own brother-in-law in treason. Forget COINTELPRO. That was more like COINTELAMATEURHOUR.
★★★★ review by Ken Rudolph on Letterboxd
This documentary tells the heretofore untold story of the 1971 document heist of the FBI office at Media, PA. The perps were never caught; but 44 years later, five survivors of the nine people involved have decided to tell their story in this film. It's actually fascinating and well told through interviews, stock footage and re-creations. Before Watergate, before the Pentagon Papers, before Edward Snowden, these stolen documents proving ongoing, illegal surveillance by the FBI had a huge impact on the national scene. The film plays like a true-life thriller; and the document thieves, now elderly or dead, are unsung heroes of that trouble plagued era.
★★★★½ review by Jason Bailey on Letterboxd
In March of 1971, a group of antiwar protestors called “The Citizen’s Commission to Investigate the FBI” broke into the FBI field office in Media, Pennsylvania, and stole every file in the joint. Among them were detailed descriptions of the agency’s surveillance and penetration into various “subversive” organizations — y’know, like antiwar groups, civil rights leaders, and women’s liberation organizations. The most incendiary items were sent to media outlets, resulting in the first congressional investigation of the FBI and a healthy shot of pre-Watergate government distrust among constituents. It’s a killer story, all but forgotten today, but this isn’t just a dry document. Director Johanna Hamilton supplements the customary archival footage and talking heads (many of them the perpetrators of the burglary, who were never caught) with slick and successful reenactments that configure the picture as both a political thriller and a heist movie (on fight night, even!). It works both as a “tick-tock” and as history; '1971' is as riveting as it is thoughtful and introspective.
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