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Riotsville, USA: Screening and Q+A

October 14, 2022 @ 7:00 pm

The Program in Racism, Immigration, and Citizenship (RIC) and the Center for Africana Studies are co-sponsoring a Q+A after the Baltimore premiere of Riotsville, USA, featuring the film’s director Sierra Pettengill and writer Tobi Haslett, as well as JHU’s Stuart Schrader, who consulted on the film.

Riotsville, USA is a documentary about the U.S. government’s response to civil disorders in 1967, based on archival footage from the period: Welcome to Riotsville, USA—a point in American history when the nation’s rulers—politicians, bureaucrats, police—were faced with the mounting militancy of the late-1960s, and did everything possible to win the war in the streets. Using training footage of Army-built model towns called “Riotsvilles” where military and police were trained to respond to civil disorder, in addition to nationally broadcast news media, director Sierra Pettengill connects the stagecraft of “law and order” to the real violence of state practice. Recovering an obscured history whose effects have shaped the present in ways both insidious and explosive, Riotsville, USA is a poetic and furious reflection on the rebellions of the 1960s—and the machine that worked to destroy them.

A recent review of Riotsville, USA, by Bench Ansfield, suggests “The documentary works so well in part because Pettengill allows the state to speak in its own words, which bristle with cold, technocratic disdain. The footage is entirely archival, and only state and newsreel images are used (though these are mediated through Haslett’s piercing narration). Riotsville offers a sustained visualization of state panic, a theater in which the authorities playact their paranoia: Black radicals inciting a riot among white antiwar protesters; snipers lurking on rooftops; police and soldiers learning what to fear and how to handle their fright.”