Films on Civil Disobedience

Civil disobedience is a refusal to obey laws, pay taxes, etc as a nonviolent means of protest or attempting to achieve political goals.  It is commonly, though not always, defined as nonviolent resistance.


Docudrama 1982 PG 190 minutes.  This awe-inspiring biopic about Mahatma Gandhi — the diminutive lawyer who stood up against British rule in India and became an international symbol of nonviolence and understanding — brilliantly underscores the difference one person can make. Mohandas Gandhi pleaded guilty and told the court, “I am here to … submit cheerfully to the highest penalty that can be inflicted upon me for what … appears to me to be the highest duty of a citizen.”

The Rosa Parks Story

Docudrama 2002 NR 90 minutes.  Angela Bassett stars in the story that sparked the birth of the modern civil rights movement in the late 1950s. Parks took the only available seat in the first row of the “colored” section on a city bus. But when a white woman boarded and the driver demanded that the black riders in her row move, everyone complied except Parks. This singular event threw Parks and her family into the Ku Klux Klan’s ring of hatred — and into the NAACP’s limelight.

The Camden 28

Documentary 2007 NR 1hr 22m. This stirring documentary recounts the trial of 28 Vietnam War opponents who broke into a New Jersey draft board office in 1971. The goal of the group was to make a bold statement in opposition to the war in Vietnam by way of sabotaging the portion of the draft process that was administered through the local draft board in Camden. Their plan was to break into the draft board offices at night and search for, collect, and either destroy or remove the records of all Class 1-A status draft registrants. It was to be both a symbolic and real blow to the process through which tens of thousands of young American men were being drafted and sent to fight in Vietnam.
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Chicago 10

Documentary 2007 R 90 minutes. Blending archival footage with modern animation, this documentary examines the massive protests besetting the 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention, and the courtroom trial of several activists and participants in the aftermath. Among those featured are Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, who were charged with inciting a riot. Mark Ruffalo, Hank Azaria and Nick Nolte provide voice-over work, and the soundtrack features Rage Against the Machine and Eminem.

Battle in Seattle

Docudrama 2007 R 98 minutes. With the World Trade Organization about to convene in his city, Seattle’s Mayor Jim Tobin (Ray Liotta) tries to make sure all events go smoothly. As tensions between protestors and authorities rise out of control, activists and bystanders get caught in the crossfire. Based on the 1999 protest referred to as the “Battle of Seattle,” this drama features Charlize Theron, Woody Harrelson, André Benjamin, Connie Nielsen and Michelle Rodriguez.

This Is What Democracy Looks Like

Documentary 2000 NR 68 minutes. Narrated by Susan Sarandon and Michael Franti, this powerful documentary recounts the story of more than 100 activists who gathered to promote economic justice and turned cameras on police during the 1999 World Trade Organization summit in Seattle. During a days-long massive demonstration, violent clashes with the cops were broadcast by news outlets around the world as the protestors shut down the WTO.

Martin Luther King, Jr: I Have a Dream

Documentary 1986 NR 25 minutes.  Relive one of the seminal moments in the history of the Civil Rights movement with these fascinating excerpted clips from Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s landmark speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963. In addition to King’s most famous address, this compilation also includes the last speech he delivered before his tragic assassination, as well as footage of the beautiful eulogy delivered by friend Bobby Kennedy.

King  (1978)

Docudrama Miniseries 1978 NR 2 discs.  Nominated for nine Emmy Awards, this acclaimed 1978 miniseries chronicles the life of Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during the height of his work as a civil rights leader. Starring Paul Winfield, Cicely Tyson and Ossie Davis, the film paints an intimate portrait of King’s public and personal life. Extras include two documentaries, a conversation with Tony Bennett and director Abby Mann and a making-of featurette.

King  (2008)

Documentary 2008 NR 94 minutes.  An insightful look into the life and legacy of American civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., this Tom Brokaw-hosted program digs deep to reveal King’s true personality through interviews with those who knew him as well as contemporary figures. In addition to comments from former President Bill Clinton, Forest Whitaker and Chuck D., civil rights advocates such as Andy Young and Harry Belafonte contribute moving testimonials.

Citizen King

Documentary American Experience 2004 NR 120 minutes.  A little-known chapter of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s life — his last five years, during which he spoke out against the Vietnam War and became an advocate for all of America’s have-nots, regardless of race — is the subject of this documentary. Much is known of his tireless efforts as a civil rights leader, but this film focuses on King’s later work — which actually caused some to accuse him of abandoning his original mission.

The Great Debaters

Docudrama 2007 PG-13 124 minutes. At all-black Wiley College in 1935, an activist professor pushes his debate team to a level of excellence that nets them a chance to take on Harvard University — the reigning national champs — in this inspiring drama based on a true story. When the team finally arrives at the Harvard contest, the viewer gets a full-on debate, and it’s worth the wait. The topic is civil disobedience, and as one of the film’s heroes describes his own life experiences as an African-American, the message deeply touches hearts and minds. While based on a true story, like many movies of this docudrama type, the accuracy of the details is suspect. (The team did beat the reigning champion, but the actual champion at the time was not the team from Harvard. In fact, Harvard’s participation is fictional. The Wiley team actually beat out the student debaters from the University of Southern California.) Still, I prefer to give it the benefit of the doubt. Here the goal seems to be to educate and entertain at the same time. I feel like this film ultimately succeeds at that and it is also a work of art. I highly recommend it. A must-see for everyone.

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Howard Zinn
You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train

Documentary 2004 NR 78 minutes. Matt Damon narrates this documentary chronicling Howard Zinn’s commitment to social change through archival materials, commentary from Zinn and interviews with contemporaries Noam Chomsky, Daniel Ellsberg, Tom Hayden and Alice Walker, among others. See Full Review

We Steal Secrets:
The Story of WikiLeaks

Documentary 2013 R 2hr 9m. This documentary reveals how Julian Assange fired a global debate on secrecy when his web site, Wikileaks, published thousands of confidential documents. Taking no sides, Oscar winner Alex Gibney examines every aspect of the controversial event.


Documentary Frontline 2011 May24 NR. Intelligence analyst Bradley Manning set off a firestorm of controversy when he released millions of classified documents to the WikiLeaks Web site in 2010. “Frontline” investigates this enigmatic figure’s motives and the fallout of his actions. It’s the biggest intelligence breach in U.S. history-the leaking of more than half-a-million classified documents on the Wikileaks website in the spring of 2010. Behind it all, stand two very different men: Julian Assange, the Internet activist and hacker who published the documents, and an Army intelligence analyst named Bradley E. Manning, who’s currently charged with handing them over. Private Manning allegedly leaked the secret cables — along with a controversial video — in the hope of inciting “worldwide discussion, debates and reforms.” Assange’s stated mission has been to force the U.S. and other governments into maximum transparency through his whistle-blowing website. Through in-depth interviews with Manning’s father, Assange, and others close to the case, veteran Frontline correspondent Martin Smith tells the full story behind the leaks. He also reports on the U.S. government’s struggle to protect national security information in a post 9/11 world. Link to View This Frontline Story for Free (Listed by Date 2011 May24):

Julian Assange: A Modern Day Hero?
Inside the World of WikiLeaks

Documentary 2011 NR 1hr 30m. Radical and unapologetic, Australian publisher and journalist Julian Assange created massive controversy in 2010 by making public a flood of secret correspondence among U.S. government agencies via the WikiLeaks internet whistleblower website. As this comprehensive and unbiased examination of Assange’s career illustrates, he was already engaged in distributing “secret” information in the public interest before the revelations that made him world famous. The repeated heading used in the film is “Courage is Contageous.”

We Are Legion:
The Story of the Hacktivists

Documentary 2012 NR 97 minutes. This documentary explores the world of Anonymous, the radical “hacktivist” collective that has redefined civil disobedience for the digital age. Through interviews with members, academics and activists, the film traces the evolution of the movement.

The Most Dangerous Man in America
Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers

Documentary 2009 NR 94 minutes. Revisiting a pivotal point in American history, this documentary chronicles Pentagon insider Daniel Ellsberg’s daring endeavor to leak top-secret government papers that disclosed shocking truths about the Vietnam War and Nixon’s presidency.

The Pentagon Papers

Docudrama 2003 R 92 minutes. This compelling political drama is based on the true story of high-ranking Pentagon official Daniel Ellsberg (James Spader), who, during the Nixon era, strove to preserve American democracy by leaking top-secret documents to the New York Times and Washington Post. The documents in question would eventually become famous as the Pentagon Papers, which revealed the true reasons for U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Alan Arkin and Paul Giamatti co-star.

Liberty! The American Revolution

Documentary Series 2004 NR 3 discs. This PBS production showcases the events that led up to the American War for Independence, in comprehensive and sequential order. No stone is left unturned, as everything from the Boston Tea Party to the approval of the U.S. Constitution is explored. The documentary combines narration, reenactments of events, interviews with academics and historians, actors’ dramatic readings of letters and diaries written at the time and much more. The Boston Tea Party was one of the most famous acts of civil disobedience in American history.


Revolution in Cairo

Documentary Frontline 2011 NR 53 m. Frontline dispatches teams to Cairo, going inside the youth movement that helped light the fire on the streets. Follow the “April 6th” group, which two years ago began making a bold use of the Internet for their underground resistance, tactics that led to jail and torture for many of their leaders. Now, starting with the “Day of Rage,” we witness those same leaders plot strategy to try to bring down President Mubarak. Link to View This FRONTLINE Story for Free (Listed by Date 2011 Feb 22):

The Square

Documentary 2013. Nominated for the 2014 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, this critically praised documentary chronicles the history-making revolution in Egypt that captivated the world with scenes of courage and freedom in the face of violent opposition.

A Whisper to a Roar

Documentary 2012 NR 1hr 34m. This rousing documentary examines how protesters dedicated to democracy and nonviolence have changed the political landscapes in five countries. Telling the stories of the people behind the fight for democracy in Egypt, Malaysia, Ukraine, Venezuela and Zimbabwe, “Roar” introduces us to real life heroes who have risked and continue to risk their lives to overcome powerful regimes and pave the way for democracy to take hold in their homeland. An interesting mix of countries, representing, Africa, Asia, Europe and South America, we learn more about highly publicized stories like Egypt’s and Venezuela’s and about some not-so-well-known like Malaysia’s and Zimbabwe’s. The audience will walk away feeling empowered and bound to others through their actions, a great reminder that we shape the world we live in.

High Tech, Low Life

Documentary 2012 NR 1hr 25m. Meet Tiger and Zola, two “citizen reporters” who travel throughout China, facing censorship and even imprisonment in their pursuit of the truth.  Citizen journalism and Civil Disobedience at their best. The courage of these people is amazing, and their passion is inspiring. After I watched this, I tried to search for recent blogs by Tiger but couldn’t find anything. This film gives you the feeling and the flavor of Beijing. The real stuff. The way real people live and work and how they are naturally. The countryside scenes and the travel scenes nail it! I lived in China four years 2006 to 2010 teaching English, and this show brought back many memories. This doc shows the importance of the flow of information, and how each and every one of us can make a difference in our communities. I remember Facebook being blocked and on some occasions Yahoo and Google as well. Censorship in China is little known by most around the world, and I was fascinated. This doc does a good job at showing the censorship going on over there. Although it’s not as bad as everyone thinks. In four years I saw so much change it felt like I was inside a time-machine watching new developments pop up overnight — a lot of the same stuff going on here in the States. I recommend this film for anybody who has never been to China. I must say, this film opened my eyes to life in China. We should never take our freedom for granted. I really enjoyed this movie. And great job by all involved in this film! Great watch!

Poland – The Morning After

Documentary Frontline 1990. In the summer of 1989, Poland astonished the world by starting the revolution which has swept Eastern Europe. Solidarity, the once-banned independent trade union, took power in a coalition government ending 45 years of Communist repression. In this report, Frontline examines a society attempting something which has never been done-changing overnight from Communism to capitalism.

The Singing Revolution

Documentary 2006 NR 97 minutes. This moving documentary recounts Estonia’s fight for freedom from 50 years of Soviet occupation, telling the remarkable story of the hundreds of thousands of protestors who gathered in public to voice their dissent through song.

Bloody Sunday

Docudrama 2002 R 110 minutes. On Sunday, Jan. 30, 1972, in a Catholic district of Northern Ireland, 13 unarmed civilian demonstrators were shot and killed by members of the British Parachute Regiment. Director Paul Greengrass’s documentary-style drama depicts the massacre.

Sophie Scholl: The Final Days

Docudrama 2005 NR 117 minutes. Arrested for participating in the White Rose resistance movement, anti-Nazi activist Sophie Scholl (Julia Jentsch) is subjected to a highly charged interrogation by the Gestapo, testing her loyalty to her cause, her family and her convictions. Based on true events, director Marc Rothemund’s absorbing Oscar-nominated drama explores maintaining human resolve in the face of intense pressure from a system determined to silence whistle-blowers.

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