"Berkeley in the Sixties" is a fact- and footage-filled documentary on the blossoming of radical-think and flower power in the San Francisco Bay area. It's can't-miss subject matter, but writer-director Mark Kitchell, a onetime longhair, takes a surprisingly straight approach to that bent and boisterous age.
In interviews with 15 now middle-aged activists, Kitchell traces the student movement from its pacifist beginnings at a 1960 demonstration against the House Un-American Activities Committee to its militant apex during the Vietnam War. Bobby Seale, co-founder of the Black Panthers, recalls the highs and lows of the period along with anti-war, women's rights and electoral reform advocates. Older and wiser now, they share their thoughts on what was and was not achieved by such groups as the Congress of Racial Equality and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.
The archival footage, in which Ronald Reagan, Joan Baez and Huey Newton jostle elbows, connects us with the turbulence that pitted the establishment -- the Chicago cops, the network news and the various inmates of the White House -- against the then-flourishing counterculture. Some of the footage is reminiscent of the freedom rallies and subsequent police action at Tiananmen Square.
A bit on the sanctimonious side, "Berkeley in the Sixties" is about a nation divided, about a nonviolent army of youth, a halcyon vision, a civil war fought mostly with placards and rhetoric. In its conservative way it recalls a generation's ideals, the kids who grew up on Tinker Bell and believed that they could change the world, that any dream -- desegregation, an end to war -- could come true if they only marched on Washington.
Berkeley in the Sixties, at the Biograph, is unrated.