Sunday, October 21, 2007


THE CAMDEN 28 (2007, USA, Anthony Giacchino)
What do you do when a child's on fire? We saw children on fire. What do you do when a child's on fire in a war that was a mistake? What do you do? Write a letter?

Cinematically straightforward documentary of Catholic Vietnam protesters surprises us with skillfully structured story developments, bringing not only unexpected drama but also considerable complexity to a story of conscience that's both political and personal.

I came to the film dutifully, imagining a guided tour of late-Sixties moral high ground rendered overly familiar by forty years' retrospection. It's regrettable, but once history has deemed their cause noble, the agitators of the past don't agitate us any more, whether they fought slavery or segregation or apartheid or a war that common consensus has decreed immoral: they're too obviously "the good guys," and we too glibly take their side. This film goes some distance toward reminding us of the difficulty and potential price for those moral decisions, and adds depth by revisiting not only the conscientious objectors but also the snitches, feds and prosecutors who also, as it turns out, acted from conscience.

What begins as a compelling enough story of political activism motivated by religious belief – twenty-seven of the activists were Catholic priests and lay people, one a Lutheran minister – becomes more personal when unanticipated betrayal and tragedy challenges their commitment not only to peace and justice, but also to the sometimes harder work of reconciliation and community. War-makers and peace-makers alike assume that God is on their side: here we're reminded that following Christ isn't only a matter of which road you decide to go down, but how you choose to walk it.

The emotional punch of the film comes when the white-haired mother of one of the protesters reads her testimony, mourning another son killed in the war. "We ought to be ashamed of ourselves. I know that I was. I am ashamed of the day I took my son to that airplane and put him on. Can anybody stand here and tell me that he was fighting for his country? I can't understand what we're doing over there. We should get out of this. But not one of us raised our hands to do anything about it. We left it up to these people to do it, and now we're prosecuting them for it. God help us."

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Available at Videomatica

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