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CIFF: "Chicago 10"

By Rob Christopher in Arts & Entertainment on Oct 10, 2007 3:45PM

This is part of Chicagoist's continuing coverage of the Chicago International Film Festival.

Filmmaker Brett Morgan introduced last night's screening by clarifying that his movie Chicago 10 is not a sequel to Chicago the musical. He was joking, but we could all use a little refresher on the events of August 1968, when riots turned the Loop and Lincoln Park into battle zones between the police and protesters. The chronology of the whole nightmarish week and the circus-like trial were definitely a little blurry for us. (And did everyone know Aretha Franklin sang the national anthem at the convention? We didn't.) Morgan's film aims to bring this chunk of history alive for a different generation by mixing searing archival footage and newly-animated sequences.

2007_10chicago10.jpgYes, that's right: animation. The movie is structured around the federal trial of the Chicago 7 (the movie is called Chicago 10 because ten people were eventually sentenced on contempt-of-court charges). Since there was no footage of the trial, Morgan chose to take the actual court transcript, cast it with "name" actors such as Mark Ruffalo, Hank Azaria and Jeffrey Wright and animate it a la Waking Life. It's a suspect strategy, especially for a documentary, but it's a workable compromise between a whole-hog dramatization and a by-the-numbers talking heads job. Morgan is pretty straightforward about designing the film specifically for people in their teens and 20s, and this was part of his solution.

Another part was using contemporary music from the likes of Eminem and heavy metal stars on the soundtrack. Do audiences today really need this kind of souped-up ornamentation? The stunning archival footage, which shows things like people getting clubbed on Michigan Avenue, crowds swarming around the Petrillo bandshell, and Lincoln Park being inundated with National Guardsmen in riot gear, is far more evocative and gripping than any of the new animation.

Quibbles aside, the cast of characters boggles the mind — Abbie Hoffman, Daley the Elder, Allen Ginsberg, Bobbie Seale. It's an amazing story.

Chicago 10 screens tonight at 9:30 p.m. at River East. It is expected to sell out. Call 312-332-FILM for details.