Independent Lens: Chicago 10

Wed, 10/22/2008 - 9:00pm

Pictured: The courtroom of the 1968 conspiracy trial.

Roadside Attractions/ITVS

The year was 1968. A war in a foreign land was tearing people apart, and the president’s approval rating was at an all-time low. The country was divided. Many felt America was lost, without a moral compass. And young Americans took to the streets to change the world. During the 40th anniversary of this pivotal year in world history, Independent Lens is pleased to announce that Chicago 10 will have its broadcast premiere on Wednesday, October 22 at 9 p.m. on WXXI-TV 21 (cable 11) and WXXI-HD (cable 1011 and DT 21.1), as the season opener of the Emmy and Peabody Award–winning PBS series, hosted by Terrence Howard.

Combining bold original animation with extraordinary archival footage, Brett Morgen’s revolutionary Chicago 10 explores the buildup to and unraveling of the Chicago Conspiracy Trial, where history played out as both tragedy and farce. Visceral and emotional, the film brings viewers inside the courtroom to experience firsthand the riveting drama, legal wrangling, and raucous political theater. During the infamous 1968 Democratic national convention, antiwar protesters—denied permits to march and blocked from the political process— fought for their right to be heard. Arrayed against them were the formidable forces of Mayor Richard Daley’s political machine, backed up by billy clubs and the stinging fog of tear gas. Bloody riots splashed nightly on live television as Americans stared at their screens in disbelief. Eight of the most vocal activists were charged and brought to trial in a courtroom circus that pitted activism against the establishment.

Chicago 10’s characters are the stuff of legend: Black Panther leader Bobby Seale, the eighth defendant, who insisted on representing himself and ended up bound and gagged by an exasperated Judge Julius Hoffman; defense attorney William Kuntsler; SDS defendant Tom Hayden; and Yippies Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman, who served as court jesters. Vividly bringing the players to life are the vocal talents of Hank Azaria, Mark Ruffalo, James Urbaniak, Jeffrey Wright, Liev Schreiber, Nick Nolte, and Roy Scheider, among others.

Although many know the defendants as the Chicago Seven, Jerry Rubin once said: “Anyone who calls us the Chicago Seven is a racist. You need to call us the Chicago Eight. But really, you should call us the Chicago 10, since our lawyers were each given contempt sentences.”

Capturing the idealism, rage and tumult of an era, Chicago 10 uses artistry and creative vision to shatter the constraints of the historical documentary and fashion something completely new.