Chicago 1968

Maysles Documentary Center, 343 Malcolm X Blvd, New York, NY 10027

For the seventh screening in our multi-program series FILMS FOR SOCIAL CHANGE: REVISITED AND EXPANDED, join us at the Maysles Documentary Center on April 12th, at 7pm, for two astounding documentaries chronicling the cultural climate and major sociopolitical events surrounding and following the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago.


Of all the events and historical cataclysms explored in Films for Social Change: Revisited and Expanded, the protests, police crackdowns and later conspiracy trial resulting from the Democratic Convention in Chicago in the summer of 1968 are some of the most analyzed, remarked upon and taught about of all the seismic moments of upheaval in the 1960s. Unlike many of the other events and phenomena covered in the series, the brutal, mass-media-distributed violence and the political and legal furor of the convention and its aftermath are represented copiously in mainstream media, from contemporaneous television news coverage to several narrative films, ranging in quality from the New Hollywood classic Medium Cool (1969) to more recent Aaron Sorkin-helmed The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020). The shocking events of the Convention Week saw peaceful protest rallies; humorous political stunts (The Yippies infamously nominating Pigasus J. Pig for President) and stunning, nation-shaking political violence (especially on August 28, the night of the nominating votes in the convention hall, in what came to be called ‘The Battle of Michigan Avenue’: the bloodying and beating of protesters that would be seen by a nationwide audience of 90 million households, as well as by delegates watching monitors at the convention hall). The moving-image was umbilically linked to the unfolding events, so much so that protesters coined a chant to remind heavy-handed police that their behavior could be seen by a broad audience, meeting their skull-bashing and tear-gassing with the shout: "The whole world is watching!"

Beyond the immediacy of the television accounts and the postmortem fictionalization of the trail, more experimental and activist visions can be found on film by The Yippies themselves in their satirical and rage-filled Yippie from 1968 (distributed by Newsreel at the time) and in the work of local filmmaking collective The Film Group whose seven-part educational film Urban Crisis and the New Militants (1966-1968) is now considered a classic of New Left filmmaking. Five of the seven films in the series utilize footage from the 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention, while the other two (Cicero March and Black Moderates, Black Militants) are concerned with similar issues of civil rights and civil disobedience.

In this screening we will be showing two related films that chime with both Yippie and the work of The Film Group. The first is a near-feature length pedagogical film produced by the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Political Science Department in the immediate aftermath of the DNC Convention. Conventions: The Land Around Us was originally distributed by Films for Social Change. The film possesses a tone that slips between formally academic and sober—offering sequences of sociological and political contextualization and analysis of the events—interspersing these with a more free-wheeling, and decidedly of-its-time posture that embraces the Dada-esque, put-on-style political performativity that saturated the moment. Described by its makers as a "documentary film essay," the work is presented as "bringing to life the emotional and ideological dynamics of that historical moment, it also places it in the dual context of interactional analysis and the history of American Utopian movements." The objective stance of this description notwithstanding, the film often veers off into a zany mode of address that leaves little doubt as to the filmmakers’ position on the events of that week in August. In an accompanying note for educators, Swatex and Miller extol the variety of spectacles the film offers:

"Listen and watch while leaders of the anti-government demonstrators discuss their plans for responding to violence. Learn how meditation and unconscious responses to stress were hoped to stop the war in Vietnam and bring peace and justice to the world.

See Chicago Police Battle America’s Youth!

Hear Mayor Richard J. Daley Talk Dirty in Public!

Hear Bing Crosby and Abbie Hoffman point out with song and practical demonstration that the ideals of the Yippies! were the same as those of earlier American Utopian Movements, like the Mormons, the Socialists, and the Pilgrims.

See Yippies! get married in public!

See the Democratic National Convention sing 'Happy Birthday To Lyndon Johnson' while hundreds of demonstrators tell him what they really think of him.

See an American Senator encourage police violence!

Experience American politics in the late ‘60’s as an LSD trip while Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention play “The Return of Son of Monster Magnet.”

Hear Guy Lombardo and the Royal Canadians play the Democratic National Party’s theme song, 'Happy Days Are Here Again.'

Hear Hubert Humphrey prophesy the coming of the New Age, while Yippies! vote for pig!"

Following Conventions is another film that can be placed squarely in the tradition of what art historian Craig Peariso has called the ‘radical theatrics’ of 1960s cultural activism. Richard Brick summarizes his film The Conspiracy and the Dybbuk as a "political documentary of the religious exorcism of the evil spirit or dybbuk possessing Federal Judge Hoffman, trial judge of the notorious conspiracy trail of the so-called Chicago Eight." The trial, in 1969, was an attempt to convict Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, David Dellinger, Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, John Froines, Lee Weiner, and Bobby Seale of organizing a conspiracy to cross state lines and incite the violent "riot" that occurred during the convention. The film depicts an exorcism ceremony performed by the Radical Jewish Union of New York on the steps of the federal courthouse at Foley Square in New York. This public ceremony, that seriously and pointedly decries the actions of the judge (who notoriously chastised and gagged the defendants in the courtroom, especially the Black Panther Seale) is intercut with coverage of rallies with addresses by Hoffman, Rubin; their defense attorney William Kunstler and the French writer and activist Jean Genet. The contrasting political discourse sounds potentially fractious but the clash of these modes of address hinges well together to form a unique and powerful statement on the trial and its foibles.


  1. Gerald Swatex and Kaye Miller, Conventions: The Land Around Us, 1968, 16mm, black and white, sound, 67 min.
  2. Richard Brick, The Conspiracy and the Dybbuk, 1971, 16mm, black and white, sound, 25 min.

Total Run Time: 92 minutes.