Watch Tuesday, April 28, 2015 at 8pm on WMHT TV.
The aftermath of the shooting deaths of four college students at Kent State in 1970 has been called the most divisive moment in American history since the Civil War. KENT STATE ‒THE DAY THE ’60s DIED returns to that turbulent spring 45 years ago through a compelling documentary that takes a new perspective on the incident and what followed: an exploration of how three very different worlds (U.S. college campuses, the jungles of Cambodia and the Nixon White House) collided during that month in 1970.
“We wanted to present a film that isn’t just an accounting of what happened, but instead a chronicle that gives viewers a deeper context for why it happened,” said Beth Hoppe, Chief Programming Executive and General Manager of General Audience Programming for PBS. “There have been a lot of films about Kent State, but this one really captures the emotions of those times.”
KENT STATE ‒ THE DAY THE ’60s DIED focuses on the day President Richard Nixon shocked the country by announcing the United States’ invasion of Cambodia. At college campuses across the U.S., masses of previously uninvolved young people took to the streets in protest. Five days later, four unarmed Kent State students were shot dead by Ohio National Guardsmen. The event and the spasm of violent unrest that followed marked a fever pitch in the country’s conversation about class, freedom and democracy.
The film traces the experiences of Americans at the heart of the conflict — from the students and Guardsman who witnessed Kent State to young foot soldiers in the Cambodian jungle; from construction workers fighting demonstrators on Wall Street to the survivors of the all-but-forgotten police shootings of Jackson State students. In May 1970, the “peace now” optimism of the 1960s counterculture met its end at Kent State, and American society split into seemingly irreconcilable factions.
Presented in a dramatic chronology leading up to, and through, the May 4 shootings, both domestically and in Vietnam, KENT STATE ‒THE DAY THE ’60s DIED is told through the eyes of those who were involved in key events at Kent State, Washington, D.C., and in Cambodia and Vietnam. Featured interviews include Dr. Gregory Antoine (student at Jackson State College in 1970),Terry Braun and Ron Orem (both Vietnam combat veterans), Pat Buchanan (White House advisor and speechwriter to President Nixon), Gail Collins (New York Times columnist), Jerry Casale (Kent State student protester and founder of the musical band DEVO), Tim Naftali (former director of the Nixon Library and Museum), Rick Perlstein (historian), and Mark Rudd (co-founder of the Weatherman) to illustrate to the viewer how their experiences shaped these historic events. Through their words, viewers learn about the conflict from a wide spectrum of perspectives.
“Through the words of our interviewees, we tried to capture the American public’s reaction to the events that led to the highly documented Kent State incident and the Vietnam War,” said filmmaker Jon Halperin of Room 608. “Our challenge was to give a new perspective on the situation and to let the people — and the footage itself — be the main characters.”