KSU documentary to debut Sunday

Examination of two decades of dissent at school is among events marking May 4

By Carol Biliczky

Beacon Journal staff writer

Daniel Miller lived through a lot of the turbulence of May 1970 at Kent State University. On Sunday, he debuts his documentary about those days.

The University of Oregon filmmaker is among this year's attractions in the remembrance of the Kent State shootings.The 35th anniversary commemoration by the May 4 Task Force will include the signature events: a candlelight march at 11 p.m. Tuesday and a candlelight vigil at midnight Wednesday to mark the shooting deaths of four students and the wounding of nine others by Ohio National Guardsmen.

The theme of this year's event, ``Tell Me, Father, Did They Aim?'' is a quotation from a May 5, 1970, telegram sent by Mary Travers (of the singing group Peter, Paul and Mary) to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover.

A formal commemoration is from noon to 3 p.m. Wednesday, the anniversary of the shooting. The campus Victory Bell will peal for the dead and wounded.

The keynote speaker will be Dr. William Schulz, executive director of Amnesty International USA, who was a student minister at the Kent Unitarian Universalist Church at the time of the shootings.

There will be panel discussions and a new feature -- an Arlington National Cemetery-style display of white crosses by California veterans to hammer home visually the human cost of war.

For a younger generation of students bred on video, though, Miller's documentary of the conflicts surging around Kent State may be especially compelling.

It will debut at the start of the reunion of the Kent chapter of the activist group Students for a Democratic Society from 4 to 7 p.m. Sunday in KSU's Student Center Kiva.

KSU as center of dissent

Miller, now 56, was a Wooster resident and Kent sophomore on May 4, 1970. He wasn't on campus on the fateful day, and he later moved with his family to Oregon to finish college and earn a string of degrees, including a doctorate.

But the Portage County campus kept drawing him back. Eventually he decided to document the dissent that surged on campus in the 1960s and '70s with a 90-minute documentary that he came to name Fire in the Heartland -- A History of Dissent at Kent State University, 1960-1980.

``Kent State was on the fault lines of the issues of the day, including civil rights, poverty and the anti-war movement,'' said Miller, who teaches telecommunications and film at Oregon.

Several documentaries have been made about May 4 -- among them, Letter to the Next Generation (1990) and The Day the War Came Home (2000) -- plus one feature film, Mayday: Kent State (1984).

Miller thinks his will be different. ``I thought that what I could add was context because the perception I was getting in my research seemed to be, `This was the most unlikely of events in the most unlikely of places,' '' he said. ``I thought that not to be true.''

He said he spotlights Kent's rich history of civil disturbance that started years before the shootings and lasted years afterward as students wrangled with the administration about memorials and punishments.

Kent, he believes, was the most anti-war campus in the country -- or at least on a par with well-known bastions of unrest such as the University of California-Berkeley.

Interviews in film

Miller's blend of archival and contemporary footage includes interviews with many of the key figures of the day: Larry Simpson, then-president of Kent's Black United Students and now president of Cuyahoga Community College's Metro Campus; William Whitaker, a former SDS leader, Kent student and law school graduate who helped defend indicted students; and Alan Canfora, who was a KSU sophomore and activist when he was shot in the right wrist during the disturbance.

``A lot of them talked about their experience in small towns, about their friends being killed (in Vietnam), or they related horrific stories,'' Miller said.

He hopes the film will bring history alive for today's college students, whose perceptions of the times may come from That '70s Show or Austin Powers movies.

The filmmaker has high hopes for the work -- aiming to submit it to the Sundance Film Festival this fall and air it on public television.

As with all the May 4 Task Force events, the debut of the movie will be free and open to the public. For details on any of the events in the annual commemoration, call co-chairs Sarah Lund-Goldstein or Taryn Leggett of the May 4 Task Force at 330-672-3096.