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PARK CITY - You say you want a revolution?
The opening film of the 2007 Sundance Film Festival could spark one, if its director has his way.
"I made the movie because it was the kind of movie I wanted to go see, to mobilize the youth of this country to get out there and stop this f---ing war," yelled filmmaker Brett Morgen, after his radical documentary "Chicago 10" played Thursday night at the Eccles Theatre here, kicking off the nation's most prestigious film festival.
"Chicago 10" chronicles, through terrifying footage, the riots outside the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. It also restages the trial of the Chicago 7, the activists accused of inciting those riots, through bold animation and actors' readings of court transcripts.
Morgen praised the Chicago 7 defendants for risking their lives to protest the war in Vietnam. "These guys represent the greatest values we have as Americans," he told the Eccles audience, adding that he aimed to "try to create the experience of what it might have been like to be there."
His hard-charging and energetic film succeeded at that, according to Tom Hayden, one of the Chicago 7 defendants.
"I loved the film," Hayden said, after being prompted to the stage by actor Nick Nolte (who provided the voice of prosecutor Thomas Foran). After marveling that Morgen was born in October 1968, about a month after the riots, Hayden asked, "How did he so authentically capture the feeling, the experience?"
Sundance's founder and resident guru, Robert Redford, told the Eccles audience that the activists in Chicago "raised their voices in that protest, against what they felt was wrong."
Morgen would like to see more of that kind of behavior. He noted that a strong majority of the nation opposes the war in Iraq, according to most opinion polls, "but you wouldn't know it by looking out there on the street."
Redford started Thursday night's show on a political note. He said on the Eccles stage five years ago, in the wake of 9/11, he "pledged support for a time of healing" and that those who opposed President Bush "agreed to put our voices on hold in the spirit of unity."
"I leave it to you how you feel about that," Redford said, adding, "I think we're owed a big, massive apology."
"Chicago 10" - the title includes the Chicago 7, co-defendant Bobby Seale, and lawyers William Kunstler and Leonard Weinglass - is only the second documentary to open the Sundance festival. Redford told a Thursday afternoon news conference that putting "Chicago 10" in the opening slot is "making a statement about the importance of documentaries."
Redford touted the festival's support of documentaries since 1986 - the year the Sundance Institute took control of what was then the U.S. Film Festival - a time when "the mainstream wasn't allowing [documentaries] any space," he said.
Festival director Geoffrey Gilmore said the story of the 1968 Chicago protests is emblematic of Sundance. "This festival's always been about risk-taking," Gilmore said. "This film's about taking a risk to make a change in the world."
Morgen said he dreamed of opening "Chicago 10" at Sundance, and imagined the premiere every time he drove past the Eccles Theatre on his way to Oakley, where he edited part of the film. (His parents bought land there after visiting Park City in 1999, when Morgen's documentary "On the Ropes" played the festival.)
"I had my eyes set on the Eccles from day one," Morgen said.
The festival gets under way in earnest today, with a full slate of screenings in Park City. The Salt Lake Gala, with screenings of actress Sarah Polley's directing effort "Away From Her," is set for tonight at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center. More films will unspool at the Broadway Centre Cinemas and the Tower Theatre, as well as venues in Ogden and the Sundance resort.
Redford laughingly called the festival "Park City's version of Pamplona and the running of the bulls," and urged the Eccles audience to "have fun, because what's it all about if you can't have fun?"
But, Redford concluded, "Be careful crossing streets."