The 1979 documentary “The War at Home,” which earned the Oscar for Greatest Documentary Function, covers the occasions at the College of Wisconsin that result in the dying of a scholar by way of a bomb meant for a military analysis facility. The movie is being re-released in theaters, so author Hannah Blum sat down with director Glenn Silber for an interview.
The Stanford Daily (TSD): What drew you into making “The War at Home,” and why the occasions at UW particularly?
Glenn Silber (GS): Properly, once I was a teenager such as you, 18 years previous, I turned a freshman at the College of Wisconsin, Madison. I was from a suburb in New Jersey and knew nothing concerning the struggle regardless that it was 1968 and we already had 580,000 individuals over there preventing. I got here from a sheltered suburb; I was gonna be a freshman at this massive school campus, and I was targeted on having a terrific yr and being away from house for the primary time, actually, and it was simply the standard freshman expertise.
The day after my mother and father dropped me off and stated, “Go get educated,” somebody slipped a leaflet underneath my door from the Wisconsin Draft Resistance Union. I was organized from day one to seek out out concerning the struggle and discover out concerning the draft that very undoubtedly threatened my well-being. If you had that struggle over there that needed increasingly GIs to go be a part of the meat grinder that was occurring – that focuses your thoughts. It wasn’t an inconsequential thought, that I want to seek out out about this. It’s virtually like, “What side are you on?” so that you higher get educated and fast, and that’s what occurred as a result of it was the difficulty of the day. That was me as a freshman, and pretty shortly there was a variety of motion occurring on campus round protesting the struggle, protesting the draft, protesting the college’s complicity with all that and I obtained swept up in it like most people in my dorm.
Between the autumn of ‘68 and the spring of 1970 when we had the murders of the four unarmed students at Kent State by the National Guard, the whole school just exploded. Not just Madison but everywhere, including Stanford. It was like a riot for a week, people protesting the idea that that could ever happen here in America. National Guardsmen, unprovoked, firing at unarmed students. That was sort of the final straw for me because I decided that after that spring I was gonna drop out for a semester, think it over. And then, of course, in that time when I was dropping out, that summer, came the biggest event in Madison history in the war, which is when the activists blew up the army math research center. I was already planning to drop out, but if I hadn’t I might have then. That’s historical past now, I imply this stuff occurred and whenever you’re so near it it’s arduous to actually get a perspective on the place it’s going. I feel we knew why it occurred, not Kent State a lot however within the case of the Military math analysis middle, that was the bodily incarnation, the militarization of our school.
After I graduated, I had already moved from eager to be in images to going into movie which is sort of exhausting as a result of it’s not like you’ve gotten a transparent reduce path like a lawyer or a physician. So I began out making movies as an undergraduate, and I actually needed to be a documentary filmmaker and needed to make my mark on the world. I used to joke when individuals would ask, “What are you doing?” I’d say, “Well I’m going to make epic documentaries that change the world.” There have been no actual movie packages to talk of. I made a decision it was actually extra of my progress as a younger man within the well-being of our nation, and I actually embraced the thought of being a radical filmmaker. To me, in the event you lookup radical, the primary definition isn’t some type of left-wing or right-wing extremist, it’s attending to the basis of the issue – radical. And I was very snug with that; I didn’t need to go rush off to New York or LA to attempt to get a job within the movie business. I needed to make my very own mark, and I knew that the story of what occurred in Madison over a 10-year interval was so profound and had definitely modified me as a human being when it comes to my considerations concerning the world and when it comes to my willingness to face up. So I made a decision that the story of what occurred on this one American city – “The War at Home” – can be the primary documentary concerning the anti-war motion, and you would virtually say it’s the one one. “The War at Home” is a movie concerning the 1960s and appears at the impression of the struggle in Vietnam in a single American city and on the 1960s-1970s motion towards that conflict, seen via the microcosm and experiences of Madison, Wisconsin.
TSD: Why did you need to make the movie?
GS: After staying in Madison a couple of years after my school years ended after which ultimately after the struggle led to 1975, I felt as although we’d all had such a profound expertise over a multi-year interval that I needed to ensure that we have been capable of inform our story. Some individuals stated, “Oh it’s too soon to tell this,” just some years after these occasions occurred, and I stated, “Well I know that, and that’s not a bad thing to me because I want to tell our story and I’m not going wait 10 or 15 years for someone else to tell it.” The concept was already in my thoughts, that this documentary might actually contribute to the historic reminiscence of that conflict. There are usually not many locations you possibly can go to to get that info as an scholar today. The movie, I feel, is in all probability one of the best place you possibly can go. It’s not simply the print historical past; it’s the precise footage and listening to from the individuals at the time, and the feelings – all of them play collectively to make the movie what it is today, why individuals contemplate it an genuine expression of the Vietnam period at residence. “The War at Home” leads you from occasion to occasion and exhibits how consciousness was being raised about how the world works and the way we as middle-class college students match into that equation.
TSD: Did you’ve got any difficulties whereas filming?
GS: It took us 4 and a half years to make the movie, partly as a result of we had no cash and it was very exhausting, however alongside the best way I received very fortunate. At first it was very irritating as a result of we had the State Historic Society proper there on campus, and I don’t know what I was anticipating, I at least anticipated tons and tons of pictures, however that they had actually nothing and in that sense it actually was too early. They hadn’t collected it but. So I was going there each week for a pair months for one thing I wasn’t discovering, after which lastly at some point the top of the movie and photograph wing got here to me and stated, “Okay, Silber, you’re a nuisance. Get over here, today’s your lucky day.” I was actually feeling like I wanted a fortunate day and he stated that he had simply acquired from one of many native TV stations all the movie footage that they’ve shot from 1959 to 1972. We picked it up, and it is a complete mess. The man stated, “This could be a gold mine for you, but for us it’s a massive headache because it’s not catalogued, it’s all on little rolls for storage, we don’t know what’s in it and it’s gotta be cleaned and fixed. If you do that, you can have full access for free.” We put within the work, and found some actually superb materials, as properly as two different stations on the town saying that they needed to get in on it as properly. Now swiftly, inside the span of a yr I had each body of movie that was shot in Madison, Wisconsin all through your complete decade. So as soon as we went by means of a painstaking investigation by means of the scholar newspaper, we wrote down each necessary occasion, together with the individuals who have been there, after which seemed at the historical past of the struggle and the overarching context of what individuals have been protesting towards. My associate, who ultimately turned the co-director of the movie, Barry Alexander Brown, and I ultimately put collectively a 100-page e-book define that was our roadmap, and after a yr we began filming the interviews, already figuring out the place we have been going.
TSD: Why deliver “The War at Home” again today?
GS: Once you look at the anti-war motion, we boil it down utilizing the microcosm strategy, however at its essence it is a sustained, eight-year political resistance motion that was constructed towards the warfare. I feel you possibly can look at that interval and at ‘68 in particular because everything happened that year: Johnson couldn’t run once more, 585,000 troops in Vietnam, campuses have been seething concerning the draft and King had simply come out towards the struggle. All of the polarization that occurred there, all of the political tradition we arrange there, in protesting and studying easy methods to protest, I feel planted the seeds for the resistance motion today. And never solely due to the totally different types of protest, a number of which the anti-war motion discovered from the civil proper motion. These are nonetheless points that we’re coping with fifty years later which are unresolved.
TSD: How is “The War at Home” nonetheless relevant to my era?
GS: I feel for college kids today and even different generations, you actually have to return to that point to know the place we at the moment are – it’s much more polarized today than it was then, however all of it began again then. The seeds of resistance and the types of protest have been new – I don’t assume we might have had, for instance, ladies’s marches everywhere in the nation like we do today with out it. Positive, ladies would have protested, however nobody would’ve even considered having lots of of hundreds of individuals everywhere in the nation. You can say the identical factor of the youngsters from Parkland, Florida. In fact social media helps, however simply the thought of getting a nationwide march in Washington echoes what we did within the ‘60s concerning Vietnam. The torch was passed to your generation (to use a Kennedy line) to band together with your moral conscience and your bodies and your direct action and you could raise your voice. That’s actually a part of our democracy, that we all the time need to…reassert. And that’s the place we’re at proper now.
Contact Hannah Blum at hannahbl ‘at’ stanford.edu.