Berkeley In The Sixties
Studio: First Run
Film Length: 117 minutes
Aspect Ratio: Full Frame (1.33:1)
Last month I reviewed the terrific documentary Fighter,
which was being distributed by a small independent
company called First Run Features. The company
has asked me once again to look at another one of
their new documentary releases, Berkeley in the
Sixties, which chronicles the decade's events
from the birth of the Free Speech Movement, civil
rights marches, anti-Vietnam War protests to the
counterculture, the women's movement and the rise of
the Black Panthers.
As this documentary begins, the year is 1960 and
America is just coming out of the McCarthy era. It
was the beginning of protests against the House of
un-American activities, a committee of the U.S.
House of Representatives, created to investigate
disloyalty and subversive organizations. On December
7th 1960 Dwinelle Plaza was the scene of another
campus demonstration against the House Committee.
Over 300 students gathered to petition Congress
against reconstitution of the Committee. This
demonstration encouraged radical students to get
together and create SLATE, a platform
created to teach students about the political issues
of the time. People looking for truth and meaning
seemed to find each other, and by 1964, the Berkeley
campus was swept by a student rebellion against
restrictions on political activity. The revolt was
called the "Free Speech Movement."
This Academy Award nominated documentary interweaves
the memories of former student leaders who grapple
with the meaning of their actions. Combined with
these recollections are thousands of feet of video
that contain demonstration footage and interviews
from Martin Luther King Jr., Ronald Reagan, Mario
Savio, Huey Newton and Allen Ginsburg.
There are also songs from known The Grateful Dead,
Jimi Hendrix, Joan Baez and The Jefferson
Airplane (among others).
The documentary explores the turbulent times that
surround Berkeley College during the 60s, including
the birth of the civil rights movement in 1963 where
students came together with black activists, trying
to secure jobs for minorities. As the Berkely
administration took disciplinary action to stop
the protests, the student opposition grew larger.
What other alternatives did these students have to
express that they were unhappy with the way things
In 1965, the cause turned towards the Vietnam War.
This documentary takes a look at Vietnam Day,
the 35-hour anti- Vietnam war teach-in which brought
35,000 people to the University of California campus
on May 21 and 22, 1965. This resulted in many
attempted marches into Oakland, as well as well as
a confrontation with Hell's Angels. You'll even
watch as students try and stop a train by marching
on its tracks.
We also watch the rise of the counter-culture known
as hippies, who by 1966 were turning on, tuning
in and dropping out. These were people who did not
want to belong to a culture that was destroying the
world. These were individuals that simply wanted to
live their life the way they felt life should be lived.
By 1967, the protests against Vietnam gave rise to
Bobby Seale's Black Panthers, whose militants
fed the hungry, protected the weak from racist police,
and presented a new paradigm of Black political and
social activism. There's a pretty cool story from
Bobby Seales about how he raised money to buy shotguns
by selling little red books on Berkeley campus.
Finally, the documentary takes a look at People's
Park. In the spring of l969 , the Berkeley street
community initiated a project to transform a barren
and unused university-owned Lot into a park for the
whole community to enjoy. It was a way for the
counter-culture to show how cooperation can be used
to create something wonderful instead of for profit.
Because the park threatened the control of the
university and presented a challenge to the concept
of private property, the police and National Guard
were used to brutalize the people and destroy the
How is the transfer?
Usually I prefer not to rate the transfer of a
documentary in the same manner that I would a feature.
You just cannot compare the two. I can tell you
although that this documentary looks a little dated
(it was made over 10 years ago), overall picture
quality is quite good. The archival footage is also
in very good shape here. The mono soundtrack is
generally very clear, though its qualities slightly
vary based on the source material.
When Berkeley in the Sixties was first put
together, the first draft of the film was over three
hours in length. Many footage sacrifices had to be
made to bring the length down to under two hours.
Deleted Scenes contains approximately 46 minutes
worth of raw footage that had to be removed. They
include various clips of protests, speeches and a more
in-depth look at the rise of Black Power (featuring
Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr.). There's also
an alternate ending that was originally proposed for
this documentary but later scrapped. All of these
sequences begin with a slate of text that gives a
little background on the footage you are about to
watch. All of this footage is in raw form as it was
never intended to be used for the final draft.
You can get a better feel for the flavor of this era
by watching Archival Gems, which are a group
of newsreel footage that give you a sort of snapshot
of the 60s era. Though they don't fit into the
subject matter of this documentary, it is kind of
fun to watch clips of girls at a Kennedy rally, or
the Hell's Angels Press Conference or even Ken
Kesey's Acid Test Graduation.
An Archival Photo Gallery sports approximately
27 photos that capture the various moments that are
seen throughout the documentary.
Finally, we have the film's Original Theatrical
Trailer, in addition to trailers for other
The only two notable items missing from this DVD
is one, any sort of subtitles. A representative
from First Run has expressed that creating subtitles
is a very expensive process for such a small company.
Also missing is any sort of booklet that gives you
production notes or even chapter stops.
Another terrific documentary and learning experience
courtesy of the folks from First Run Features.
Anyone that has ever had questions about many of the
controversial issues of the 60s generation, may find
all their questions answered in Berkeley in the
Sixties, perhaps one of the most insightful
and fascinating documentaries about the 60s era.
Release Date: Now
All screen captures have been further compressed.
They are for illustrative purposes only and do not
represent actual picture quality