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October 20, 1984 - Image 4

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The Michigan Daily, 1984-10-20

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4

OPINION
Page 4 Saturday, October 20, 1984 The Michigan Daily
Documenting the American communist

Y

Independent filmmaker Jim Klein has a
special vision of American history - a per-
sonal one. Klein says this is the approach
he and partner Julia Reichert took when
they made Seeing Red, a full-length
documentary about the history of
American communists. In the film, which
received an Academy A ward nomination
for Best Feature Documentary of 1984,
Klein and Reichert look at the personalities
involved in the movement - who they were
then and where they are now. Klein, 35,
took time out from a promotional tour
stop in Minneapolis to talk with Daily Arts
editor Fannie Weinstein about the film and
what he sees as the role of the independent
filmmaker.
Note: The Ann Arbor film Cooperative
will be showing SeeingRed at 7 and 9 p.-m.
tonight in Auditorium 3 of the Modern
Languages Building.
Dialogue
Daily: Where did the -idea for the movie
come from?
Klein: Julia and I made a film called Union
Maids, which was also nominated for an
Academy Award, back in 1976. It was about
three women who were union organizers in the
'30s. At the time we made that film, we knew
very little about the communist party and had
no idea it played a significant role in union

organizing or in these three women's lives. Af-
ter we finished the film they all came to
Dayton, Ohio, where we live, for the world
premiere. We got to talking about their lives
and it turned out all three of them had been
members of the Communist party. The stories
they told us that night were fascihating and
deserved to be told. It haunted me and Julia for
a long time. At first we didn't want to do it
because we felt it would be very hard to make a
film about American communists that could be
acceptable in our~society. The common reac-
tion you would get if you talked about making
a communist film was "are you now or have
you ever been?" There was a sense that to talk
about the subject was to be a weirdo of some
kind or another. So we tried for about a year
not to make the film and to think of other ideas
for our next film. But it's the type of thing
that's a real challenge to a documentary film-
maker - to take a group of people who are con-
sidered to the left of devil worshipers and do a
human story about them is something we
could not avoid and couldn't let go of.
Daily: Is that why you decided to make the
film?
Klein: There were several ideas or
philosophical reasons why we decided to go
ahead with it. One was that the term "com-
munism" has been used as somewhat of a cur-
se or a way to discredit all kinds of people in
this society who try to make social changes.
When the anti-nuclear movement started get-
ting big, for example, Ronald Reagan said it
was infiltrated by KGB agents. While there
was no way we were going to make a film
telling the American people, "Hey, com-
munism is the greatest thing since ice cream
and you should all become communists," we
did want to break down the myths of what, in
fact, the communists were - true Americans
who were doing what they thought was right to
change the country. With all their problems
and all their mistakes, they still led a life of

commitment and have many things to be proud
of. We felt if we could do that, the word "com-
munism" could not be used in the same way
and to me that's very important in terms of the
future of social change in this country.
Daily: How long did it take you to make the
film?
Klein: It took six years to make the movie.
It was a real hard one to make. We talked to
over 400 people in making the film 400 people
who had been in the communist party. I think
the hardest thing about doing that was that it
was quite hard to find the people and even har-
der to convince them to talk. Remember these
are people who had been under attack since the
'50s - they actually lost jobs and had their kids
beat up at school and were forced to move over
and over again and were hounded by the FBI.
But it really didn't stop there for them. Most of
these people have had problems ever since and
have also seen their kids have problems. When
we would go to interview someone about the
film, they would wind up interviewing us for
several hours first, trying to figure out what
our motivations were because they had been
treated badly by the press for so long. The
other thing was that usually when you do film
research, you find a couple of people involved
in the story, then you talk to them for awhile,
and then you ask them "Well, who else could I
talk to about this." But in this film no one would
say, "Go talk to Joe, go talk to Sally. They
were in the party." People would say, "I know
a few people who might be interested and I'll
talk to them and they'll talk to you." It makes
it a lot harder because if you can talk to
someone directly, you can get right into what
their concerns or worries might be about what
you're doing. Since it was second-hand, I think
we lost a lot of people who might have been
good for the film but were not willing to trust
the process.
Daily: You've said the film emphasizes the
personal side of American history. In what
way do you think it does that?

Klein: The film is not a history of the com-
munist party. It does not start out saying,
"the communist party was founded in 1919, in
1920 they did this, then there was a split in
1929". I feel that while that information would
be interesting to some, to most people it's not
particularly important or relevant today.
What really interested us were the lives these
people who had been American communists
had led and what types of lessons they had for
,us today. We center in on what that experience
felt like. We say to the audience, "For 90
minutes, get inside the shoes of someone who
plays the other in our society; who doesn't go
along with the norm but stands on the outside
and challenges the whole basis of our society."
We try to let the viewer get a feel for what that
would have felt like, why they would have
decided to do it, what would have been the in-
credible highs of it, and also, what it would
have been like to then be incredibly persecutedi
for it. We say to the audience, "See what that
feels like and then look at how these people
came out of the other end." To me, the thing that
makes the story really worth telling is who
these people are today who were communists
in the '30s and '40s. I think they're some of the
most interesting, brightest, open people I've
met who are in their sixties and seventies. To
me, that says something about the lives they've
led; that you don't have to feel if you lead a life
of purpose, if you take chances, if you make
mistakes, if you do things that you later may
feel very sorry about, that you're going to be
sorry about that life when you get older. I think
you can live with a sense of pride in that you
tried to have an impact on your society.
Daily: Hollywood seems to be reluctant to
make "political" films like Seeing Red. Do you
think there's an audience for these types of
films?
Klein: When we finished Seeing Red and we
took it around to distributors, we were told
there was no audience for this kind of film.
Distributors just felt it was too risky to make a

film with a political message. So we've been
distributing it on our own now for a year and
there is definitely and audience for this kind of
film. Besides the major cities, it's been playing
in art and repertory theatres all across the
country. I think audiences and critics are sur-
prised they like the film. I think the big
question about a film is not so much whether
it's political or not, but whether it's a good film,
whether it's entertaining, whether it moves
you, or whether it teaches you something. I
think Seeing Red is successful in those areas.
When audiences see it, they come out and say,
"Hey, this wasn't a history lesson. This was- a
good movie.
Daily: Is it harder for an independent film-
maker like yourself to make this type of film? '
Klein: Absolutely. When someone is backed
by a studio, the money is up front. It took six
years to make Seeing Red and I would say
about two of those years were devoted to fun.
draising. In fact, we had to stop for about ten
months four years into making the film and
just fundraise full-time . Also, we wound up
working on a much smaller budget. If this filmi
had been made in Hollywood or by one of the 4
networks, it would have cost about double what
it cost us to make. I think films made by ini,
dependent filmmakers present more of a per-
sonal vision, and in that sense are extremely
interesting. In terms of American film, the
most creative and most important films that
have been made in the last five years have been
independent films. Hollywood is so dependent
on making films that please everyone and sell
100 million tickets that you really can't think
about a personal vision within them. To me,
that vision is what makes cinema really ex-
citing.
Dialogue is an occasional feature of the.
Opinion Page.

* in.~h /kII1PhPk.

Sinclair

Edite nichig an t
Edited and managed by students at The University of Michigan

Vol. XCV, No. 39

420 Maynard St.
Ann Arbor, MI 48109

e1 Editorials represent a majority opinion of the Daily's Editorial Board
Questions for Mondale

ONGB LFO AMPL.

k EMOCRATIC presidential can-
didate Walter Mondale is coming
to town Tuesday. For Democratic Par-
ty organizers the visit is a tribute to
their hard work throughout this cam-
paign and a last ditch effort to win
voters to their cause. For Republicans
N it means just another opportunity to
prove that there is a rising tide of cam-
pus conservatism that will translate
into votes for the president Nov. 6. Yet
whether one is a Democrat or a
Republican, there is one thing this visit
must do: explain to students where the
candidate stands on issues of direct
concern to them.
Uninformed students might not even
have bothered to vote. Those who vote
for a candidate because their parents
or friends are voting for that candidate
should not have the audacity to vote.
And -often, because they do not watch
presidential debates, or read up on the
candidates' stands on the issues,
students fail to even contemplate who
they might vote for. Election day just
slides by like a 7 o'clock class. But lust
as a class missed for such unsuitable
reasons as oversleeping means a
student has wasted the money he or
she has invested in the University,
students who skip out of their duty on
election day miss the chance to exer-
cise a right the U.S. Constitution has
invested in them: the right to vote.
Here are some suggested questions
students should ask Mondale in order
to vote knowledgeably:
" What kind of a priority will you give
funding to higher education in your
budget as president?

" The Reagan administration has
pushed for a higher drinking age and
has tied this to transportation funding
for states. Do you think forcing states
to raise the drinking age to 21 is fair to
young people?
" Under the Carter administration
college age students were once again
required to register with the Selective
Service in a kind of peacetime draft.
You have reportedly changed your
position and do not support Selective
Service registration. Is this true and
why did you change your position?
" How do you feel about the Solomon
Amendment requiring college age
men who apply for financial aid to
prove they have registered with the
Selective Service? President Reagan
signed this legislation into law.
* In the Grove City college case
before the Supreme Court last
February, the Reagan administration
supported a narrow interpretation of
the Title IX civil rights law so that one
department of an institution could
discriminate, for instance, on the basis
of sex and the rest of the institution
could still receive federal funds. Do
you support this interpretation of civil
rights law?
" What were your values as a college
student in Minnesota? What were im-
portant issues to you then and how
have they changed if at all?
This is not an exhaustive list of the
campaign issues greatly affecting
college students. But it is a good start.
Evervone who attends the rally should

PW AOS C0~ONM

':

LETTERS TO THE DAILY

Abortion is, a necessary evil

To the Daily:
The issue of abortion has
caused a great controversy in the
country lately. I have considered
the issue, and find myself op-
posed to any measure that would
restrict the practice. Those who
disagree with my position do so
quite strongly, referring to those
who share my belief as advocates
of murder. I therefore wish to
justify my position in this letter.
Abortion, admittedly, is an
evil, but it is also a necessary
one. A society in which abortion
was illegal would eventually see
those saved and also the general
population suffer greatly.
Initially, the unwanted children
would be adopted. The society
would see happy families.
However, the demand for these
children would soon disappear,
the absence of abortion would
raise the orphan population far
beyond the adoption rate. The
unadopted children would be
tntall,, rafnclf on the Lnuvr-

v

India is an extreme example of
a society without population con-
trol. With religious restrictions
preventing population control,
the people of India now suffer
from lack of food, medicine, and
housing. These shortages are
only a small segment of the prob-
lems of population which now
plague the country. These
problems, which cause so much
death and suffering, are the root
of the tragedy of India. I do not
infer that abortion restrictions

would cause as great a tragedy in
the United States. I do, however,
assert that there are distinct
problems associated with large
populations and that these
problems increase in direct
proportion to population growth.
In time, unchecked population
growth in the United States would
foster the same problems that
now plague India.
And what of the plight of a
woman in society that bans abor-
tion? She would be forced to

make one of three choices. First,
she could bear the unwanted
child and its burden for the rest of
her life. Second, she could bea4
the child and place it in a poorl*
funded orphanage. Third, she
could risk her own life and at-
tempt an illegal abortion. Such
legislation, which so blatantip
denies freedom, has no place io
American society.
--Steven Hou14
October 19
'ession
4) an important method of
spreading information.
We agree that some type of
code concerning student activity
is necessary. However, the prop-
sed code has flagrant flaws. It
should be more concerned with.
violations of human rights; ac-"
tinn nl r ,. nrmna'; f in"'al -

Code limits free expr

To the Daily:
In recent years, the School of
Natural Resources has worked
actively within the University
community to protect the in-
tegrity of the school in the face of
severe budget cuts. Because the
Student Policy Advisory Commit-
tee strbng1v believed that student

significantly interfering with a
normal University sponsored ac-
tivity" is subject to disciplinary,
action. We feel this is a direct im-
position on the freedom of ex-
pression; a very critical and
powerful right granted through
the Constitution.
Demnnstratinns are not

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