#SUNDANCE: “RIOTSVILLE, USA”
By Amanda Gilmore
This riveting Documentary unearths the horrifying truths that followed the uprisings in the 1960s USA. In the aftermath, the US military received increased federal funding which was used to create model towns called “Riotsvilles,” where military and police were trained to respond to domestic civil disorder.
Director Sierra Pettengill uses only archival footage that was shot by the US military or appeared on broadcast television. What starts the documentary is the Johnson administration’s Kerner Commission, which resulted in an increase in federal funding for police. She lets the unsettling footage of the military and police in the Riotsvilles play out. Showing the excessive physical force and tear gas tactics used. In doing so, she effectively uses their footage to show the horrifying extent they went to.
Additionally, she goes further to expose the media coverage of the protests. Extended takes of media broadcasts are included, proving some of networks bias’. Even when a network, such as PBL, attempts to give a voice to the Black Community they are silenced by institutions. By including the government and media’s own footage, Pettengill exposes how institutional powers work to create a biased narrative and maintain the prejudicial control of a group in society.
Although the Film explores the late ’60s it draws parallels to today. These parallels show that time passes but institutional powers fight to keep things the same. With an eerie score played against the disquieting footage, Pettengill makes RIOTSVILLE, USA a powerful Documentary that may become one of the most terrifying films we’ve seen in a while.
RIOTSVILLE, USA screens virtually at Sundance:
Premiere: Jan. 21 at 2PM EST
Second Screening: Jan. 23 at 10AM EST (available for 24hrs)