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Group Efforts: activists join forces to document the march that shut down the Drive



Video producer Linda Beckstrom didn't take her camera to last year's antiwar demonstration on Lake Shore Drive, and she left the march just as the standoff between police and protesters started to get ugly--she was with her ten-year-old son and had no interest in getting arrested. But as a member of Peace Pledge-Chicago, one of the groups that organized the protest, she had a lot of friends who stayed, and as she made her way home she got several calls from people complaining about arbitrary arrests. One of them was another video guy, Jon Groot, who'd done freelance work for her husband, Blake Beckstrom, and told her he had managed to leave the scene with a couple hours of footage of the melee.

"I was very upset about how the mainstream media overlooked the event," Beckstrom says. "It got me thinking about who controls the airwaves and what to do about it." Struck by the power of the images Groot had captured, which started with scenes of police walking side by side with protesters and tracked the afternoon's change in tenor until the arrests began, she realized there was a story to tell. She enlisted Groot, her husband, and video editor Seth Skundrick as coproducers, and started asking around to see if others had tape from the march that could go toward making a documentary. "Fortunately, Chicago has kind of a community of people who do video and are activists," she says. "When word got out that we were looking for footage, they were quick to send it in. We asked if they would be willing to donate the footage, and everyone said yes."

The group collected more than 20 hours of digital video and began interviewing march organizers and arrestees in April. After several months of editing, a preliminary cut of the film was screened three times last fall. At one, at the Arlington Heights library, a brawl almost ensued when a Korean War veteran and a law enforcement officer stood up and questioned the protesters' actions. "One guy from our side got up and started to argue," says Beckstrom. "The library security guard had to tell them to go outside. Emotions are still so raw."

The early screenings were held "under the radar," says Beckstrom, due to licensing concerns. The producers had put together a sound track of 12 songs by bands as disparate as the Housemartins and the Chicago Underground Duo, but the cost of licensing them was prohibitive. Some people suggested getting rid of the music, arguing that the images spoke for themselves, but, Beckstrom says, "You're working on something that you want to make decent and creative and something that people want to watch. They're not going to get the message if it's boring, and the music is a part of that."

Then Mark Messing, a musician and activist who leads the All-American Antiwar Marching Band--a fixture at local protests over the last year--approached Thrill Jockey head Bettina Richards to see if she could help. Richards put the producers in touch with other musicians she thought might be sympathetic. "Many of our artists share the position of the film against the Iraq war," says Richards. "And of course there is a kinship between independent film and independent music. So some of our artists were more than happy to donate songs." Bands like the Chicago Underground Duo and Joan of Arc (who're on Jade Tree) agreed to let the producers have material that was already in the film for free, and others jumped on board. The revamped sound track includes contributions from Bobby Conn and Califone as well as original tracks by Messing and Kinan Abou-Afach, a cellist and former member of the Syrian National Orchestra who now lives in Chicago.

Using music by local artists worked to the film's advantage, says Beckstrom. "It makes it much more of a Chicago piece." But the producers couldn't bear to part with the entire original sound track and wound up scraping together the dough (they don't want to say how much) to license Buddy Guy's "Baby Please Don't Leave Me," Black Nasty's "Talking to the People," and the Kinks' "Shangri-la." After another round of editing, the 42-minute documentary was finally ready for a formal release. It'll be shown this weekend at Northwestern's law school, only steps away from where the mass arrests took place.

Where the film is going from there is not yet clear. The producers are submitting it to film festivals throughout the year, and want to show it locally whenever possible. Since it's not feature length, theatrical distribution is unlikely, but video release is a possibility. "We'd love to," says Beckstrom. "But it's not yet licensed for that. We have to take it one step at a time."

Where We Stood: Chicago's Resistance to the U.S. War on Iraq screens at 7 PM on Friday, March 12, at Northwestern's Thorne Auditorium, 375 E. Chicago. Kathy Kelly, from Voices in the Wilderness, will introduce it and a Q & A with the producers will follow. Tickets are $8 at the door with a reservation, $10 without, $5 for students; call 312-494-5840. All proceeds benefit Peace Pledge-Chicago.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Bruce Powell.

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