After opening Sundance 13 months ago, Chicago 10 finally hits area movie theatres February 29th. The documentary-like film, by director Brett Morgen (The Kid Stays in the Picture), tells the story of eight countercultural leaders who were charged with inciting the riots outside the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Morgen started the project in 2002 with an eye toward informing the 2004 presidential election; six years and one election later, it lands on the big screen. “We need it now more than ever,” says the New York City–based director, who spoke to Chicago during a recent visit to town.
Q: Why did you choose Chicago 10 as the title, rather than Chicago Seven or Chicago Eight, as the group is better known?
A: It was called C7 for five years. We liked that it made it feel like a movie, as opposed to a documentary. However, there were eight defendants. Jerry Rubin once said, “Anyone who calls us the Chicago Seven is a racist. Because you’re discrediting [Black Panther leader and codefendant, in part] Bobby Seale. You can call us the Chicago Eight, but really we’re the Chicago Ten, because our two lawyers went down with us.” And I felt like it would also allow me to appropriate the story, rebrand the story.
Q: The film relies on animation, not interviews, to tell its story. Was that a difficult decision?
A: It wasn’t. [If I used actors] with the amount of archival footage that was going to be in the film, the audience would be constantly forced to juxtapose the actor’s image with the real person’s image. [I wanted] the audience to experience the film more as mythology than a traditional documentary.
Q: Why did you choose to bring in modern music by Rage Against the Machine, Eminem, and the Beastie Boys?
A: I don’t think of this as a movie about 1968 at all. I think this is a movie about 2007 and 2008. Usually you see documentaries set in 1968, and you get this big montage of all these pivotal moments of that year. I didn’t want that. I wanted the film to tell a story about a war going on, opposition to that war, and a government trying to silence the opposition.
Q: In the courtroom scenes, the prosecuting attorney resembles George W. Bush. Is that a coincidence?
A: Hmmmmmm! You think he looks like George Bush?
Q: Yes. You don’t?
A: Maybe you’re projecting.
Q: How do you feel about people labeling this movie a documentary, with its re-created elements?
A: I’m not a journalist. I’m a filmmaker. . . . I’m not a historian, although I’m extremely assiduous and obsessive about getting my hands on every primary source that exists on a subject. In that sense, I may approach my work from an anthropological perspective: I need to get my hands on these primary sources, but when I get [them], I’m going to tell my story.
Photograph: Courtesy of C7 Films