SUNDANCE REVIEW – “Riotsville, USA”
Riotsville, USA is an archival documentary that tells the story of riot management program formed by the U.S. Military in the 1960s that were formed in response to civil rights protests/riots that were popping up in cities across the nation. The film carefully deconstructs the tense political climate that was prevalent at the time, and all the things that brought America to that point. But it also tells the insane true story of how the U.S. Military constructed fake towns to hold fake protests in with U.S. soldiers play-acting as protestors. And this isn’t just a standard fake protest – the soldiers got extremely into their roles while donning “hippie clothing” from the times and specifically chanting about the injustices that occurred.
From the get-go, Riotsville, USA is a harrowing and frightening look at how the military and government will respond to unrest in America. But it’s really in the latter half of the film that you see how absolutely insane these faux-protests truly were and how all of these general that arrange it patted themselves on the back for coming up with such a plan. All of these clips are presented unaltered, and it makes for an even more intimate yet uncomfortable view of that political climate at that exact time.
I also found the use of news footage from this time period to be really effective here. The build-up to showing the actual faux-riots towards the end of the films is built up by showing city hall debates between citizens, talking about how they feel about the U.S. governments’ response to the political unrest in cities across the nation. While the film might not be saying anything quite new in terms of the injustice that has occurred in the past, it does a tremendous job at drawing parallels to then and now in a way where they don’t have to explicitly tell you that’s what their trying to accomplish.
From start to finish, Riotsville, USA is truly a harrowing watch and a must-see for anyone who is politically involved with protests. While it doesn’t exactly mirror everything we go through in the year 2022, it is quite a site to behold – and it poses the interesting view on how the U.S. Military’s view of protestors hasn’t change since this time.