Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Hit & Stay

Release Date: 2013
Production Company: Haricot Vert Productions
Directors: Joe Tropea and Skizz Czyzk
Run time: 98 minutes
Seen at: Maryland Film Festival, Charles Theater 1, Thursday, May 9 7:30pm
Official Website

"Hit & Stay" was the first film I saw at the Maryland Film Festival this year.  It was first screened on Thursday, the first full day of the festival. At the time I saw the film, I had volunteered late Wednesday for opening night and early Thursday for Tent Village Set-up.  I knew I had a late night ahead of me, so I took a nap before seeing one of two films Thursday evening.

Purely by coincidence, both films I saw Thursday had a Baltimore connection, "Hit & Stay" and "I am Divine."  There were other films with connections, namely "12 O'Clock Boys," "By and By: New Orleans Gospel at the Crossroads," and "If We Shout Loud Enough."  These other films were interesting, but I ultimately decided on the films I did for a few reasons.  First and foremost, the topic interested me.  I had first read an article in Baltimore City Paper a few years ago.  The author of the article, Joe Tropea, is one of the film's directors and has been researching this subject since he was an undergraduate.  Secondly, I planned to see six films over the course of the festival.  A daunting task to be sure.  Due to the wide range of documentaries available, I wanted at least two to have a Baltimore or Maryland connection.

The weather Thursday evening was beautiful as I lined up outside the historic Charles Theater.  The film was screening in Charles 1, the original and largest theater there.  (The film screened at MICA Brown Center for it's Saturday showing.)  As I waited in line, the directors mingled with film goers.  I was not surprised to see them interacting as both are locals and undoubtedly knew many in the line.  I was surprised to realized after the film that I was standing directly behind David Eberhardt, a member of the Baltimore Four and Joan Nickelson, another peace activist featured in the film.  These chance encounters are what make film festivals so interesting.

Hit & Stay begins its focus on the Baltimore Four and Catonsville Nine, anti-Vietnam protests which took place in Maryland.  The term Hit & Stay comes from the fact that after committing an illegal act of protest (Hit), the members would wait peacefully to be arrested (Stay).  Baltimore Four was a group who occupied the Selective Service Office in the Customs House in Baltimore in 1967.  They performed a ritual protest by pouring blood on the draft documents.  The blood was a mixture of donated blood from the participants mixed with chicken blood.

During the time of the trial, the members found out that no duplicate copies of draft records existed.  When they destroyed the copies during their action, there was no record of who was drafted in the area.  With that knowledge, they planned their next action.

On May 17, 1968, nine men and women, including Catholic priests, nuns, and lay people, walked into the draft board in Catonsville, just outside of Baltimore.  They removed several hundred draft records, brought them to the parking lot, and lit them aflame with homemade napalm.  The fire was captured on film by WBAL.  These actions and subsequent trials went on to spur action in places across the country as diverse as Rhode Island, Camden, New Jersey, and Milwaukee.  The spread of actions across the country was outlined with a map.  Each time an action occurred, it would be marked on a map to show the growth across the country.

The documentary itself combines pictures, film reel, and modern interviews with the subjects.  The filmmakers were able to interview many of the people who participated in the actions, journalist Patrick McGrath, the Maryland prosecutor Stephen Sachs, and several FBI agents.  The traditional documentary methods were punched up by the interesting treatment of photographs to instill movement and dimension, as well as the use of the graphics and map.

"We have chosen to be powerless criminals in a time of criminal power.  We have chosen to be banded as peace criminals in a time of war criminals."  Dan Berrigan

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