Director Anthony Giacchino‘s doc “The Camden 28” explores how and why 28 individuals intentionally placed themselves at risk of arrest and imprisonment while protesting the war in Vietnam. Featuring a bounty of archival materials and current interviews with former FBI agents involved in the case and scholars such as Howard Zinn, the film is a story about a potent form of dissent that has special relevance to our current political climate. A former producer for The History Channel, this is Giacchino’s feature film debut. First Run Features released “The Camden 28” in limited runs on Friday. The film will also air on September 11, 2007 on PBS.
Please introduce yourself…
I was born in Delran, NJ and grew up in Edgewater Park, NJ – both in south Jersey’s Burlington County. I currently live in Astoria, New York. I’m 37 years old.
I’m currently working on my next documentary. However, as I was working on “The Camden 28,” a day job was paying the bills. I recently ended a long span of employment with The History Channel–I began there in October 1994 as a research/production assistant and ended in December 2006 as the producer of “HistoryCENTER,” a Sunday-morning talk show which placed current events in historical perspective. Most people don’t know that THC had a talk show, but from 1998 – 2006, we created 323 half-hour episodes and 25 one-hour specials.
What were the circumstances that lead you to become a filmmaker?
My brother, Michael, and I had been interested in filmmaking since we were little kids. We grew up watching the three original “Star Wars” movies and every Spielberg film, which led us to make many short 8mm films of our own. So the interest in filmmaking was always there for me, but as I went through high school and college, I became committed to history and the telling of history (my plan was to become a history professor). It was around this time that I watched the PBS series, “Eyes on the Prize,” about the American Civil Rights movement. The episode that featured the Emmett Till murder had a big impact on me and probably has a lot to do with my interest with telling history using a visual medium. And since I mentioned my brother, Michael, and our early love of films, I should point out that he too is in the film business, but as a film composer, most recently of Pixar‘s “Ratatouille.” And of course, he did the music for “The Camden 28.”
What other creative outlets do you explore?
As strange as it sounds, I really enjoy tape-recording (audio only) conversations with friends and family and my own personal experiences. I started doing this in high school (to the annoyance of most of my friends) and continued through and a bit after college. I recently looked through the tapes, which are still in my parents’ basement in New Jersey, and I have something in the range of 200 hours of recordings from that period. And after an almost six-year hiatus, with some recording here and there, I’m back at it again, having just bought a mini digital recorder the first week of June. I’ve forgotten how much fun it is.
How did the idea for “The Camden 28” evolve?
Although I grew up 15-miles north of Camden, NJ, I didn’t know anything about the Camden 28 until 1996. It was at that time that David Dougherty–the film’s director of photography–and I were looking for a local historical subject that would make an interesting film. Dave and I had been friends since attending Holy Cross High School in Delran, NJ. A history teacher there, Terry Egan, had encouraged me to speak with Father Michael Doyle about the story of the Camden 28. I had known Father Doyle because he was the pastor of my parent’s church, but I had no idea that he had broken into Camden’s Federal Building to destroy draft files during the Vietnam War. This was a story we had to hear.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in developing the film?
The biggest challenge was probably convincing members of the Camden 28 that I was capable of telling the story in a fair and honest way. The C28 experience was one of the major events of their lives, and opening up about it on camera for others to see (and for me to edit as I thought necessary) demanded a lot of trust on their part.
How did you finance it?
It would not be an exaggeration to say that the people of South Jersey funded this film. The majority of financing came from individual donations collected at two large fundraisers. The A.J. Memorial Institute in New York City was the only organization that provided dollar funding for the project with a $2,000.00 grant. And, of course, there were a small handful of individuals who donated larger sums of money at critical points in the post-production phase.
What is your definition of “independent film?”
I never expected “The Camden 28” to get a theatrical release or a national broadcast. Over the 10-years it took to make, there were many opportunities and reasons to give up. But I thought it was an important story to save and I wanted to help share the C28’s message with people today. I think that many documentary filmmakers work under similar inspiration, and that’s real independent filmmaking in my book.
What are some of your all-time favorite and recent favorite films?
It would probably be wrong of me not to mention two of my childhood/teenage favorites: “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” because I wanted to be an archeologist when I was a kid and Indiana Jones made the profession look so exciting; the first “Back to the Future,” because as long as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to travel through time.
But more recently: “Gallipoli” by Peter Wier–in my mind, one of the greatest antiwar films ever made.
“Radio Bikini” by Robert Stone, a fantastic documentary about post WWII atomic tests in the Pacific. The ending shocked me and helped me realize how important it is for documentaries to have twists and turns.
“Motorcycle Diaries” by Walter Salles especially because I truly felt that I was on the journey portrayed in the film.
“The Lives of Others” by Florian von Henckel because I lived in both western and eastern Germany shortly after the Wall came down and loved talking with people about their personal experiences when the country was divided. My landlord in eastern Germany had particularly interesting stories, and even backed them up with a copy of his own Stasi file, which I still have at home.