FTA – Movie Review – 1972/2009

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FTA is an anti-war documentary that went missing shortly after its premiere in 1972. Now restored and available to the public, the film is an important record showing the strength of the American people’s opposition to the Vietnam War.

Documetary Film And Historical Record

Along with Winter Soldier, FTA stands as an important historical document, recording the American people’s anti-Vietnam war sentiments and activities. Both anti-war documentaries premiered in 1972, both refer to the Vietnam Veterans Against The War organization.

But the two films had decidedly different fates. When it was released, Winter Soldier had a fairly good theatrical run and was eventually made available on video and DVD. FTA, on the flip side, was completely squelched. One week after it was released theatrically in July, 1972, all prints of the film went missing. For three decades, the film has only existed on rare bootleg copies. But, miraculously, the film’s negatives were recently rediscovered in a film vault somewhere, and a new digitized print was made from them. With the new print, the legendary anti-war documentary is again–after 37 years–available for viewing. It was given a very limited theatrical release at the IFC Center in New York, followed by broadcast on the Sundance Channel and release of the DVD.

Protest Through Song, Dance and Star Power

FTA’s title–a three-way acronym standing for “Free Theater Associates,” “Free The Army,” and, as the soldier would say, “F*ck the Army”– is a good tease about the film’s subject. Documentary filmmaker Francine Parker (who unfortunately died before the film’s restoration) followed Free Theater Associates, a theatrical touring troupe, as they toured to coffee houses, arenas and other venues near U.S. military bases across America and abroad, performing their anti-war cabaret show–and its catchy anthem song, Foxtrot, Tango, Alpha: F…ree the Army., to cheering audiences of G.I.s. In the Free Theater Associates troupe: folksinger Len Chandler, Holly Near, Rita Martinson, Michael Alaimo, Pamela Donegan, Steve Jaffe, Paul Mooney, Donald Sutherland and a young and energetic Jane Fonda, who was subsequently dubbed Hanoi Jane for her strong anti-war activities.

FTA’s Classic Documentary Style

FTA is pure verite, with little voiceover commentary. Parker’s cameras capture the troupe’s entertaining performances, record the performers being harassed by government officials, focus on meetings between the troupe and troops. with individual soldiers and groups telling stories of what they’ve seen and done and why their experiences have brought them to so oppose the war. The angry troops explicitly articulate their points of view and the troupe takes it all in and expresses support.

Seeing is Knowing

The FTA cabaret is quite the antithesis to a Bob Hope USO show. The film is a compilation of the talented troupe’s musical numbers with songs so easy-to-learn that the audiences can sign along instantly, interwoven with clever comedic skits about military life and protocol and poignant moments–such as the standout scene in which Donald Sutherland delivers an extremely moving reading from Dalton Trumbo’s 1939, anti-war novel Johnny Got His Gun, about a maimed and disfigured WWI soldier. In FTA‘s overall picture, however, Sutherland’s reading, the songs, dances and skits seem to be almost incidental to the strong statements made by the soldiers, which are the crux of the film, informing audiences of the depth and breadth of the anti-war movement within the highly politicized military rank and file. This is a film that records history, and it is history. It’s very good that FTA can now be seen– because history seems to be repeating itself.

If You Like This Film, You May Also Like:

Winter Soldier
Trumbo
Sir No Sir
Body of War

Film Details:

Title:  FTA
Director: Francine Parker
Release Date: July, 1972, re-release February, 2009
Running Time: 97 mins.
Parental Advisory: Content and language advisory for parents
Country: USA, Okinawa, Philippines, Japan
Language: English
Company: Docurama Films/Kino Lorber

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