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American Anarchist

A recipe for disaster: book on how to make booby traps and homemade explosives written in the 1960s has served as inspiration for murderers in the US and beyond since - electrifying doc is right now at the Venice Film Festival

How do you bring a government down, create explosives and booby traps and confront military forces? Access to such devices is easier than you imagine. Published in the 1970s, the novel ‘The Anarchist Cookbook’ by William Powell sold over two million copies and can be found in online bookshops with just a click (such as here). There are individual “recipes” from the book widely available online and video experiments posted by some of those who risked cooking the explosives at home. Perhaps more significantly, the book content was used in order to kill many people, as revealed in this jarring documentary. American Anarchist examines the life and reasons that drove William Powell to write, publish and carry on allowing the distribution of such a dangerous and infamous book.

The director Charlie Siskel also produced Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine (2002). He may have realised then that at least one the perpetrators of the massacre portrayed in the film found inspiration in Powell’s book. He then began to research and to assemble material for his own documentary.

The script is very well-written. Siskel raises questions will leave you breathless in anticipation for the revelations about the journey of William Powell. Subject of this sharp investigative documentary, the author’s life is dissected by a long thought-provoking interview – possibly the only one he ever gave.

It’s impossible to comprehend the consequences of our choices when we are young. Young mothers who struggle to decide if they should keep or abort their babies. We can make many bad choices in marriages and careers. But could the writing and publishing of a book at the age of 19 be so regretful? And what to say of the actions of those who read and made use of its contents? Does the writer have any remorse?

William Powell wrote and published ‘The Anarchist Cookbook’ in the late 1960s at the end of the Civil Rights Movement. Surrounded by blacks, feminists and soon LGBT demonstrators, this period of time also saw the awakening of government and police force repression. Driven by passion and anger Powell researched and put together a vast and rich content on anarchy and technique to fight back the system. The author probably never guessed that his book would remain hugely influential more than 40 years later, and how many people used his ideas in order to carry out murder, massacre and to create chaos.

American Anarchist is a very necessary film because the subject of anarchism is still underrated, and there is a growing feeling that there is no justice in the American establishment. It helps to understand why some people become so disturbed, emotionally unstable and violent. American Anarchist is an electrifying movie to watch, and will remain an important case in the years to come about dysfunctional human behaviour and its brutal consequences.

American Anarchist is part of the 73rd Venice Film Festival taking place right now, which DMovies is covering live – the film is out of competition.

Watch the film trailer below:


By Tiago Di Mauro - 06-09-2016

Based in London, Di Mauro is an experienced Director and Producer with extended training in Film Curating. He has worked in short films, documentaries, TV, adverts, web shows and music videos. In 2020...

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