No public topic can ever be more timely than the debate over the nature and limits of liberty and the means by which citizens may oppose the policies of the government. And no documentary in recent memory so clearly and with such heartfelt eloquence poses the key questions and issues of this always-vital debate as does “Unfinished Symphony.”
Set primarily in Lexington, Massachusetts, over the Memorial Day weekend of 1971, this profound and thought-provoking film examines a protest by the Vietnam Veterans Against the War that still reverberates today, spurring discourse over civil dissent and its place within a democratic society. Planned as a rally against the Vietnam War, Operation POW was an event staged to confront suburban residents; it retraced the ride of Paul Revere from Concord to Boston and culminated with a huge demonstration on the Boston Common. The second night’s bivouac on the Battle Green of Lexington became the site of yet another historic act of civil disobedience. More than 400 veterans and townspeople were carted off and incarcerated in the town’s garage, resulting in the largest arrest in the history of the state.
The act of civil disobedience intentionally took place on America’s sacred ground, the birthplace of the American Revolution. Against the backdrop of a growing national dissatisfaction with the U.S. commitment in Vietnam, the film depicts local meetings documented over that weekend that became vigorous and angry debates not just about the war, but about the rule of law, local authority, civil disobedience, and patriotism. While rekindling the memories and anguish of the Vietnam War, the film illustrates the passion and courage of citizen leadership on all sides of the issues.
Henryk Gorecki’s “Symphony of Sorrowful Songs” provides a powerful and resonant musical voice and becomes the principal narrative structure in a film that probes the nature of public and individual conscience and challenges viewers to ask themselves what the lessons of the Vietnam experience are today. Along with extensive footage from the era and the event, the film also interweaves contemporary commentary culled from interviews with many of the participants as well as analysis by noted scholars and commentators, including Boston Univ. Professor Howard Zinn.
“Unfinished Symphony” will generate thought and discussion in a range of courses in American history and American studies, sociology, social psychology, political science, and ethics. It was produced by Bestor Cram and directed by Cram and Mike Majoros for Northern Light Productions.