The Cauldron: Columbia '68
In April 1968, students at Columbia University occupied five campus buildings and for one week brought that prestigious institution to its knees. Fighting both the Vietnam War and university racism, the Columbia Revolt riveted the nation and changed everything. Could it happen today?
Inclusion StatementThe Columbia Revolt was led by a coalition of black and white students, with the Students' Afro-American Society in the lead. But history, not surprisingly, has reduced it to a white student strike. The dynamic, central role of the African-American students is at the center of this series.
About The Project
You did have a sense that those who were controlling your life had temporarily lost control. And that is an intoxicating feeling, that those who rule your world are no longer in charge.
–Jim Stockinger, Columbia student, 1968
If you're lucky, you will face moments in your life that change everything: an instant, an hour, a day, a year, when you cross a point of no return. The pillars of your life until then suddenly crumble, and you find yourself in a new, alien world full of uncharted possibilities.
If you’re very lucky, that moment goes far beyond you as an individual, and you become part of history.
April 23, 1968, was that moment for the students at Columbia University in New York. But not just the students–faculty, administrators, the surrounding community of Harlem, even the Mayor and city officials of New York were all caught up in a maelstrom that did indeed change everything as several hundred students occupied five buildings for a week, defying tradition and bringing one of the country’s most prestigious institutions to its knees.
The Cauldron, an eight-episode series, is the story of those seven singular days and the horrific police assault that ended them. It happened fifty years ago; it could have been yesterday; perhaps it will be tomorrow.
In 2007, historian Paul Cronin launched a herculean investigation into the Columbia Revolt. With an insatiable curiosity, he interviewed on camera over 700 people and amassed a treasure trove of 30,000 photographs, hours of television coverage, the complete recordings of the campus radio’s 24/7 coverage, and long-buried footage from inside the occupied buildings. It tells a human odyssey filled with clashing ideals, alliances made and broken, the joy of rebellion, pain, love, anger, and ultimately betrayal.
Now David Zeiger, whose 2007 film Sir! No Sir! told the suppressed story of the GI movement to end the Vietnam War and helped spark a movement of Iraq veterans against that invasion, is working with Paul to make this series.
With your support we will create a sample piece to help raise funds and complete The Cauldron.
And here's what the series will look like:
Episode 1: The Die is Cast. For two years, students have been organizing on campus against a planned gym in Harlem (built mainly for Columbia students) and collusion between Columbia and the military. Demonstrations are held on campus without serious incident, but a group of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) leaders is pushing for more confrontation. When six students are disciplined for holding a demonstration inside an administration building, things reach a boiling point.
Episode 2: April 23–A Line is Crossed. A crowd of 500 students, led by SDS and the Students’ Afro-American Society (SAS), attempts to enter an administration building (Low Library), but is rebuffed. The demonstration moves off campus to the site of the planned gym, which is surrounded by a chain-link fence. As they begin to tear the fence down, a battle ensues with police. Retreating back to campus, the students enter and occupy Hamilton Hall, a classroom and administration building. A dean is held “hostage” inside his office, as SDS and SAS together formulate their demands to stop construction of the gym, end research for the military, expand student rights, and amnesty for all protesting students. As they settle in for the night, a party atmosphere prevails. A student band plays and community members and faculty come to show their support.
Episode 3: April 24–Now What? Conflict erupts overnight between SDS and SAS, as each group develops its own strategy. SAS leaders, who know from personal experience the reprisals black people can face, want a disciplined occupation with barricaded doors while SDS wants a more open approach that still allows students to attend class. In a move to hold on to control of their fight, SAS tells SDS and all the white students to leave. Whites are devastated by this, but quickly break into Low Library and establish a second occupation led by SDS. The administration attempts to negotiate separately with the SAS at Hamilton Hall and offers not to suspend them, but they refuse. Late that night, architecture students in Avery Hall refuse to leave, expanding the occupation to three buildings. As crowds of demonstrators and counter-demonstrators gather outside Hamilton Hall, faculty members begin standing in front to prevent violence.
Episode 4: April 25–More and More. A fourth building, Fayerweather Hall, is occupied by several more moderate groups who support the demands. Conservative students meet and form the “Majority Coalition” to oppose the occupations. A group of faculty members forms the “Ad Hoc Faculty Group” and propose a compromise, which is roundly rejected by the students. Counter-demonstrators attempt to invade Fayerweather Hall but are rebuffed. Faculty members decide to stand in front of the buildings “in the event of police being called in.” Both SDS and SAS firmly state that occupiers must be granted amnesty before anything else can be discussed, but the administration insists “We cannot give in on amnesty.”
Episode 5: April 26–Black Power. While most of the media focus is on SDS, it’s the African-American students who are leading the fight. To emphasize this, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) leaders H. Rap Brown and Stokely Carmichael, advocates of Black Power, are escorted on campus by 200 black high school students and make speeches supporting the demands. Harlem community members have been delivering cooked meals to Hamilton Hall, and the unity between the students and community is emphasized by Brown who warns the administration to “Deal with the brothers in the building or deal with the brothers on the street.”
Episode 6: April 27–An Intoxicating Feeling. As the occupation settles in, students experience the realization that they have created a new reality. Endless meetings about everything from revolutionary theory to cleaning the toilets drone on deep into the night. A feeling of “School had stopped, and learning had begun” pervades the occupiers. Students in Low Library invade President Kirk’s office and find documents exposing the extent of university collaboration with the war and send them out to be published by the underground press. Columbia’s Board of Trustees issues a statement fully backing the administration, and the Ad Hoc Faculty Group fruitlessly tries to arrange a compromise from both sides.
Episode 7: April 28–The Bitter Pill. The Ad Hoc Faculty Group proposes a final compromise they call the “bitter pill.” It ignores the student’s six demands, and is quickly rejected by the student leadership who publicly implore the faculty to stop mediating and “take a political position.” A campus-wide debate rages over the demand for amnesty. Should the occupiers “accept their punishment?” Or is their action in the same vein as civil rights protestors in the South? Conflicts emerge among the occupiers as some turn more toward revolution. The Majority Coalition, having circulated a petition calling for an end to the occupation, establishes a blockade around Low Library to prevent people and supplies from entering. Supporters respond by throwing food and other supplies to occupiers through the windows. Tensions mount.
Episode 8: April 29 and 30–Blackjacks and Flashlights. A fistfight breaks out between Majority Coalition “jocks” and occupation supporters. While it only lasts five minutes, it’s splashed across the country in the media. The city’s special riot squad, which has been waiting outside the campus for a week, is anxious to move. Knowing a bust is imminent, lawyers for SAS negotiate a surrender deal for Students in Hamilton, who are arrested without violence. As supporters and opponents gather in front of the other buildings, police violently remove occupiers from them. After making 712 arrests, the police form a line and sweep across the campus beating anyone in their way, supporters and opponents alike.
Epilogue: The brutality of the arrests turns hundreds of students against the administration and a campus-wide strike is called. Within a year, the plan to build the gym is scrapped, and the university eventually halts its military research.
The 1968-69 school year sees building takeovers on over 200 campuses under the slogan “Two, Three, Many Columbias.”
Use the WishList to pledge cash and loan items - or - Make a pledge by selecting an incentive directly.
About This Team
David Zeiger, Producer/Director
David Zeiger, President of Displaced Films, has been making documentary films and series for 20 years, starting with The Band, a film about his son’s junior year in high school, broadcast on the PBS series P.O.V. in 1997. That was followed by the landmark thirteen-part PBS (U.S.) and Planete Cable (International) series Senior Year in 2002. Senior Year was funded by CPB, PBS, NAATA, LPB, and the MacArthur and Kellogg foundations, and was a national presentation by PBS. His short documentary, Funny Old Guys, was broadcast in 2002 by HBO. His 2006 film, Sir! No Sir!, ran theatrically in 65 cities throughout the U.S. and Canada and was broadcast in 200 countries worldwide, including on BBC Storyville, ARTE France, ABC Australia, and the Sundance Channel in the U.S. It won Best Documentary at the Los Angeles Film Festival (Audience Award) and Hamptons Film Festival, and Seeds of War Award at the Full Frame Documentary Festival, along with nominations for an International Documentary, Independent Spirit, and Gotham award. In 2010 he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship to produce his first narrative feature, Sweet Old World. www.displacedfilms.com
Paul Cronin, Producer/Director
Paul Cronin is the editor of several books, including Alexander Mackendrick’s On Film-Making: An Introduction to the Craft of the Director (2004), Werner Herzog’s A Guide for the Perplexed (2014), and Lessons with Kiarostami (2015). His documentaries include studies of historian Amos Vogel, countercultural filmmaker Peter Whitehead, and Haskell Wexler’s 1969 feature film Medium Cool. He edited the book A Time To Stir: Columbia ’68 (2018), about the 1968 student protests at Columbia University, and made an accompanying eight-hour documentary on the same subject. Currently he is working on a book about Medium Cool and a series of books about film director Alexander Mackendrick, who was founding dean of the film school at the California Institute of the Arts. He has a Ph.D from Columbia University and teaches at the School of Visual Arts in New York. His website is www.thestickingplace.com.
Evangeline Griego, Archival Producer
Evangeline Griego is a veteran independent filmmaker, director, and media activist. Griego recently produced a series of short films for the Skirball Cultural Center’s upcoming exhibit Light & Noir and she also produced the independent feature, Sweet Old World. Evangeline's other producing credits include award-winning documentaries Chevolution, Sir! No Sir!, Calavera Highway, My Journey Home, and the PBS series, The New Americans. As director, Griego's documentary God Willing aired nationally on PBS. Previously, she directed the award winning documentaries, Paño Arte: Images From Inside, and Border Visions/Visiones Fronterizos. Ms. Griego is a founder of the Silver Lake Film Festival in Los Angeles. She served on the National Association of Latino Independent Producers (NALIP) board of directors for nine years.
Jim Stark, Producer
ProducerJim Stark’s first involvement with film came when he helped Jim Jarmusch finance, produce and sell the low budget independent hit Stranger Than Paradise (1984) (winner of the Camera D’Or in Cannes and the U.S. National Society of Film Critics’ award as Best Picture of the year). He went on to work on three more feature films for Jarmusch: Down by Law (1986), Mystery Train (1989) and Night on Earth (1991). Jim’s many other producing credits include Alex Rockwell’s In the Soup (1992) (winner of the Grand Prize, Sundance Film Festival), Gregg Araki’s The Living End (1992), Christopher Munch’s Color of a Brisk and Leaping Day (1996), Adrienne Shelly’s I’ll Take You There (1999), and Country Wedding (2008), the first film directed by internationally renowned editor Valdis Oskarsdottir which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. In addition to his producing activities, Jim co-wrote and produced Fridrik Thor Fridriksson’s Cold Fever (1995) (which won the top prizes at the Edinburgh and Troia Film Festivals) and Factotum (2005), starring Matt Dillon and which Jim adapted as co-screenwriter with director Bent Hamer from the Charles Bukowski novel (international premiere: Directors Fortnight, Cannes Film Festival). Jim also is co-screenwriter and co-producer of the contemporary Hungarian Western Mirage (2014). Jim is increasingly focusing on producing documentaries around the world, and regularly leads producing workshops at film festivals on multiple continents.
Lindsay Mofford, Editor
Lindsay Mofford began her career as an assistant editor on several of Frederick Wiseman’s landmark films. With David Zeiger she edited Senior Year for PBS, Funny Old Guys for HBO, Sir! No Sir! and Sweet Old World.
Alexandra Velasco, Motion Graphics, Assitant Editor & Associate Producer
Alexandra Velasco is a multimedia artist from Mexico City with a BFA in Communication Design from Parsons the New School for Design. She works hard to combine her passion for film and art with her belief in environmentalism and social justice. See more of her work at www.dreamsincarnate.com
Eric Mofford, Post Production Producer
Eric Mofford is a producer, line producer and budget consultant. He has been involved in over 150 film, television and on-line productions and numerous music videos/commercials, including the EMMY award-winning television series, 24, and the iconic indie feature, DAUGHTERS OF THE DUST. Recently he served as Head of Production at Lone Wolf Media overseeing documentary projects for NOVA, Nat Geo, Animal Planet, Smithsonian Channel and PBS. Previously, he served as Head of Production at Lady of the Canyon producing projects such as the dramatic television pilot, FINDING HOPE, with Chris Mulkey, James Morrison, Darby Stanchfield and Molly Quinn and the comedy documentary, WE'LL ALWAYS HAVE DINGLE, shot in Kerry County, Ireland. He also served as Head of Production at Unconventional Media, producing the EMMY nominated, award winning documentary, HOUSTON WE HAVE A PROBLEM and the live action portions for the EA video game, NEED FOR SPEED: UNDERCOVER, with Maggie Q.
Mofford, a member of the DGA, has written and directed projects for Disney Interactive, Saban Entertainment, The Discovery Channel, Image America, United Way and TBS. In 2000-2001, he co-produced the 13-part PBS documentary series on high school, SENIOR YEAR. His dramatic blues film, TRAVELIN' TRAINS won a dozen national and international film festival awards. It continues to play in art museum showcases over 25 years later. He has sold two feature film original screenplays and has various projects in development. He has done schedules and budgets for both large studio productions and small indies and has shared that knowledge teaching numerous media workshops, both in the United States and internationally and for over 10 years, he has been mentoring filmmakers with an individualized, tutorial-based instruction program, OneonOneFilmTraining.comA graduate of Emerson College with a BFA in film, Eric still considers his best and most challenging work to be raising his two daughters.