New(ish) documentary film on Sacco & Vanzetti

    On this day: Rosa Luxemburg murdered by the Freikorps, 1919; fascists form coalition in European Parliament, 2007.

    Red Rosa now has vanished too,
    Where she lies is hid from view,
    She told the poor what life is about,
    And so the rich have rubbed her out.

    May she rest in peace.

The two Italian-American anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, framed and murdered (August 23, 1927) by the US state, are the subjects of a new documentary film by filmmaker Peter Miller. Their case has obvious contemporary resonances — especially in relation to those held in the US torture camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; including, of course, Australian citizen David Hicks — whether as demonstration of the (US) state’s ability to arbitrarily kidnap, imprison, torture and execute designated enemies; as exercises in (US) state power which serve to terrorise recalcitrant populations and intimidate opposition to the (US) state’s institutional practices (war and exploitation); or as demonstration of the (US) state’s ability to flout (inter-)national laws. It can also be read as evidence “of the dangers of pitting civil liberties against national security, and of the fear of militant foreign ideologies”; which is what Saul Austerlitz maintains:

New film connects ’20s trial, 21st century
Saul Austerlitz
Boston Globe
January 14, 2007

Sacco and Vanzetti argues that the events it documents are a perfect illustration of the dangers of pitting civil liberties against national security, and of the fear of militant foreign ideologies. Images of Muslims in shackles mingle with 1920s footage of police raids on Italian radicals, illustrating the common thread of political intolerance and racial or religious prejudice.

Through a combination of archival material, interviews with experts, and dramatic readings of the accused men’s words (with John Turturro as Vanzetti, and Tony Shalhoub as Sacco), Miller’s documentary tells the story of their lives, their trial, and the efforts made to save their lives. If this sounds like the formula for a Ken Burns film, Miller has the credentials: he produced Burns’s Jazz and Frank Lloyd Wright

According to the film’s producers, Willow Pond Films:

SACCO AND VANZETTI is an 80-minute-long documentary that tells the story of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, two Italian immigrant anarchists who were accused of a murder in 1920, and executed in Boston in 1927 after a notoriously prejudiced trial. It is the first major documentary film about this landmark story.

As far as I’m aware, the film has yet to be released in Australia, though local leftist publisher Ocean Press has recently issued an anthology of largely historical writings, edited by John Davis, on the lives (and murder) of the two anarchists as part of their ongoing series on ‘Rebel Lives’. There is also a wonderful audio documentary available, published by The Journal of MultiMedia History (Charles Zappia, ‘Sacco and Vanzetti’, Vol.2, No.1, 1999), from which the following letter from Vanzetti to Alfonsina Brita is drawn:

Dear Alfonsina,

I heartily laughed to hear that the fingernails of the little cat have scratched Zora’s nose, and I continue to laugh every time I think about it. Surely, it is a good lesson not only for Zora and other child, but for mankind. The little cat knows very well it has a sharp nails, and that when a little girl molests it, it is enough to scratch a little her nose for be let free. People too have sharp fingernails, and the noses of tyrants and oppressors is make of flesh too. Oh, how much less sorrowness and misery would be among the mortals if they know just what a little cat knows.

    Sacco and Vanzetti’s story was also the subject of a prior film, Sacco E Vanzetti (1971), and (sadly now-departed) anarchist historian Paul Avrich (1931–2006: PDF obituary) wrote about The Anarchist Background (Princeton University Press, 1991) to their lives. See also : Mumia Abu-Jamal’s Freedom Journal: Updating the Campaign to Free Mumia! | Leonard Peltier: The Case of Leonard Peltier

About @ndy

I live in Melbourne, Australia. I like anarchy. I don't like nazis. I enjoy eating pizza and drinking beer. I barrack for the greatest football team on Earth: Collingwood Magpies. The 2023 premiership's a cakewalk for the good old Collingwood.
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0 Responses to New(ish) documentary film on Sacco & Vanzetti

  1. Richard Newby says:

    Has Saul Austerlitz or Peter Miller connected Sacco and Vanzetti to Judge Charles E. Wyzanski, Jr.? I would like to know. Also, can you tell me what part Ken Burns played in the making of Peter Miller\’s 80-minute film…

  2. @ndy says:

    hi richard,

    apart from writing a glowing review, i’m not sure. miller has worked as a producer on burns’ films for some time though, including the pbs series on the history of jazz.

    (on sacco & vanzetti: “A wonderful film, as timeless as the struggle for human justice, as relevant as today’s headlines.” – Ken Burns)

    as for austerlitz and/or miller making the connection to wyzanski, again, no, not as far as i’m aware.



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