Feb
06
    
Barefoot Projectionist by Charles Light

THE BAREFOOT PROJECTIONIST

By Charles Light

We didn’t have many meetings at the Montague Farm, so it was something
of a surprise when Sam (Lovejoy) asked us – the dozen or so hippie
farmers and novice anti-nuclear activists who lived in the big
sprawling farmhouse – to a meeting. A few months earlier, over
Christmas, 1973, Northeast Utilities had announced their plans to build
two gargantuan nuclear plants a few miles from the communal farm where
we lived.

The Montague Farm had had a checkered history. Born out of a schism at
Liberation News Service in 1968  the very farm itself had been
purchased with money taken or stolen (depending on your point of view)
from a benefit showing of the Beatles film, “Magical Mystery Tour”. But
all that is another tale. Suffice it to say that there was a political
beginning to the place.

Much of that radical history and involvement had receded into the
background in the five or six years since the tumultuous beginning and
we had turned our attention to surviving in the country and learning,
in a stumbling sort of way, the skills of life on a subsistence farm.
The Watergate hearings had begun to pique our interest in the politics
of the outside world and when the nuclear plans were announced we felt
ready to jump back into the political fray.

The months since the nuclear announcement had been spent learning about
the peaceful atom and trying to organize locally against the plant. We
felt that it was an issue that could cut across ideological left/right
mindsets and had made inroads with various, diverse constituencies.
However, the amount of money that was dangled in front of the townsfolk
and their leaders was overwhelming, and the plant had overwhelming
support in the town of Montague.

Sam had asked us together because he had decided on a course of action
and felt that he had to involve his anti-nuclear family because we
would also, to one degree or another, bear the consequences.. He wanted
our support for his bold plan to knock down the 500 foot meteorological
tower that Northeast Utilities had built on the plant site.

A few weeks later, on February 22, 1974, Sam loosened one of the guy
wires and the tower toppled. He proceeded to the police station where
he handed himself in along with a statement decrying atomic energy.  At
his trial, he defended himself and was acquitted of “the malicious
destruction of personal property.”

The trial raised the profile of the nuclear controversy both locally
and nationally. Steve Diamond, another resident of the Montague Farm,
wrote a piece called “Lovejoy’s Nuclear War” which was the cover story
in “New Times” and created quite a stir. We appropriated the title for
the film that Dan Keller and myself were producing.

The film was released in 1975. We had no money and no experience, but
decided that we didn’t trust any of the distributors who asked for
exclusive rights and decided to distribute the film ourselves. We knew
that it had tremendous organizing capabilities, because of the reaction
that it had received locally and when it had accompanied anti-nuclear
speakers when they spoke around the country. In addition it had won a
slew of awards at film festivals and had great buzz.

However our lack of money added up to a lack of film prints to satisfy
demand. To raise money and increase the organizing potential of the
film, we approached a wealthy benefactor with the proposal that they
buy 5 or 10 prints of “Lovejoy’s Nuclear War” at retail value. We would
donate those prints to the anti-nuclear groups that were springing up
around the country and the profit would enable us to buy more prints
and to spend money on publicity material, etc.

The plan worked amazingly well. The film went on to win numerous
honors, international distribution, and television broadcast. It was
used extensively by our own home grown speakers from the Montague Farm
such as Harvey Wasserman, Anna Gyorgy, and Sam Lovejoy as they embarked
on national speaking tours as well as in countless other organizing
meetings and informational campaigns. It was instrumental in the
forming of the Clamshell Alliance and the other anti-nuclear alliances
that sprang up in the later half of the 1970’s.

The success of “Lovejoy’s Nuclear War” enabled us to produce and
distribute a number of other titles that were used in an organizing
context. These included “Radiation & Health.” perhaps the first (but
certainly not the last) film featuring Dr. Helen Caldicott; “The Last
Resort,” about Seabrook; “Training for Nonviolence,” which was made
specifically for training participants at Seabrook and other nuclear
campaigns; “Early Warnings”, a Seabrook update; and “Save the Planet,”
a montage history of the atomic age shown at Madison Square Garden
during the MUSE concerts. We also made and collaborated on numerous
commercials for anti-nuclear referendums.

Our distribution success enabled us to expand our catalogue to include
the work of other filmmakers. We discovered that an 8mm film had been
made of the Whyl occupation and through an elaborate and expensive lab
procedure had it made available in 16mm.  The lesson of the Whyl action
was incredibly useful to Americans planning similar site occupations.
“More Nuclear Power Stations”, an understated and influential film from
Denmark made its way into our catalogue as did “Sentenced to Success”
which was made in collaboration with the radiation workers in France.
We rescued “The Atom and Eve,”  a timeless classic of nuclear
propaganda and mind numbing sexism, after the AEC took it out of
circulation.

Anyway, it was a good run. We’re proud of the role that GMP Films and
the Montague Farm played in the nuclear struggle. In many ways we were
lucky in the confluence of time and events and in having such a
compelling story as “Lovejoy’s Nuclear War.” In the mid-eighties, we
tried to duplicate the effort with “The Secret Agent, ”our film about
Agent Orange and the Vietnam vets, and despite the fact that it was a
better film with a much greater budget and had met with a lot of
critical success, it was not as successfully used as an organizing
tool.

Media can certainly be used as an organizing and educational tool in
forming and shaping a movement. Our experience with the nuclear films
and, to a lesser extent, with our Vietnam films proved that and I think
it has historically been a truism from the early days of film. The
social issue documentaries of the 1920;s gave rise to the federally
funded WPA films of the 1930’s. Film was a potent weapon for both sides
during WWII. Home grown agit-prop was committed to celluloid by the
radical Newsreel Collective during the Vietnam War and independent
media has played a vital role through the struggle over Central
America, AIDS, the gay liberation movement, the environment, and now
efforts against the war in Iraq and other Bush atrocities. “An
Inconvenient Truth” has most recently shown us the power of independent
media to move the debate.

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