Filmmaker Q&A

Director/producer/editor Sam Green talks about anti-war movements, generation gaps and “just doing it.”

Do you think a group like the Weather Underground will emerge again?

This is a hard question to answer. There are obviously a number of striking parallels between the late 1960s-early 1970s and today: the U.S. is stuck in a quagmire halfway around the globe. There is a growing movement against war and inequality, with lots of young people taking to the streets. Yet at the same time, there are very significant differences between then and now. I think that the level of both frustration and of upheaval in 1969—the year the Weather Underground was formed—was enormously more than what is in the air today. The group was formed in many ways because the large, peaceful non-violent movements for change hadn't seemed to work. Today, I think that the big, non-violent movements against the war and for global justice are working—they are building slowly and the jury is still out on what their ultimate effect will be. So, I would hope that a group like the Weather Underground wouldn't emerge right now. Perhaps in four years, if the war is still festering, that will be a different story.

How have viewers reacted to THE WEATHER UNDERGROUND?

It's been interesting to see how people have reacted to the film. In general people have reacted less negatively than I would have imagined. Perhaps audiences have appreciated the fact that we tried very hard to be as accurate, fair and even-handed as possible. It's been striking how viewers of different generations have reacted differently to the film. Most people over 40 remember the Weather Underground and often have strong feelings—either pro or con—about the group. But almost nobody under 40 has ever heard of the WU; so for younger people, their reaction is often just amazement that something like this could have taken place.

What kind of impact do you hope your program will have?

The goal of THE WEATHER UNDERGROUND is not so much to give answers but to raise questions. By exploring this controversial subject with depth and balance, we hope to encourage a broad debate of some of the most important issues of our time. What would real social justice look like, not just in America, but throughout the world? What is our responsibility as Americans for the inequalities of globalism? How do we as a society define violence and terrorism? And can violence ever be justified in the pursuit of social change? These are questions that defy black-and-white notions of right and wrong, good and evil. They evoke the full complexity of human behavior and the subjective nature of modern morality. We have entered a new era in this country since September 11th. We feel very strongly that there must be a real and open discussion about the current “terrorism” and the issues that it raises if we are to have any hope of creating peace and justice in the future.

The independent film business is a difficult one. What keeps you motivated?

The independent film business is definitely a tough one. What keeps me motivated is that making films is actually often great fun. And also to be able to express oneself creatively and to try, in some small way, to make the world a better place—these are invaluable experiences.

Which filmmakers have most influenced your work?

Heddy Honigmann, Alan Berliner, Lewis Klahr, Ron Mann, Craig Baldwin, Johan Grimonprez, Errol Morris, Sarah Jacobson, Agnes Varda.

What sparks your creativity?

Other people.

What advice do you have for aspiring filmmakers?

This'll sound completely stupid, and a lot like some dumb slogan, but my advice for aspiring filmmakers is to "just do it." I think that the best way to learn how to make films is by making them. School is great—I certainly learned a lot in school. But these days, with cheap good cameras and cheap editing systems, anyone can make films for relatively little money. Sometimes I am struck by younger filmmakers who get hung-up on trying to raise lots of money for a project. To me it seems like the best way to learn is to choose a relatively straightforward and do-able project and just make films.

Read the transcript for the chat with Sam Green and Bernardine Dohrn >>


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