Vietnam War-era America looms large over our contemporary culture, both inspiring our output (how many more Beatles and Kinks knockoffs can we stand?) and creating an Oedipal complex that we just can’t seem to beat. What Anthony Giacchino’s documentary The Camden 28 seems to be asking is, “Why can’t we produce anti-war activists like in the old days?” The Camden 28 were members of the Catholic Left who, in 1971, attempted to burglarize a federal building and destroy draft records. Caught in the act, their trial was one of the landmark cases about protesters and their legal rights.
Like many liberal-minded activist documentaries, The Camden 28 has its heart in the right place, but its mind seems to wander. The play-by-play explanation of how they cased the building and planned the robbery is inspiring (if not educational), yet the recreation of the trial nearly 30 years later seems to lack the expected vigor. Particularly under-explored are the FBI’s counter-intelligence and prosecution strategies, elements that are necessary to properly contextualize the political and cultural impact the Camden 28 had in their time.