AMERICAN REVOLUTION 2 a film by HOWARD ALK & MIKE GRAY. WITH BOBBY LEE. 1969. USA. 75 min. A vérité account of democracy in crisis and those working to mend it.


Considering the seismic activity that shook America throughout the 1960s brought on by popular political, social, and cultural malcontent—of which the 1968 Democratic Convention could be considered an apogee—the general assumption that a second revolution was on the horizon was not far-flung. For filmmakers Howard Alk and Mike Gray, this societal shake-up became entirely palpable when documenting the formation of the unlikely alliance between the Illinois Black Panthers—helmed by Bobby Lee—and the Young Patriots, a poor Appalachian community living in Chicago’s uptown neighborhood, in their film American Revolution 2.


Alk and Gray were both part of a loose collective of Chicago-based filmmakers known as The Film Group. Their cinema was direct and sought out veracity to combat the omnipresent confusion of the 1960s. This yearning to understand how everyday citizens persisted or, in other cases, challenged government offenses dictates American Revolution 2’s form. The film gradually transitions from frenetic protest footage to more deliberate recordings, detailing civil debates between distinct political groups.



“The two [Black Panthers and Young Patriots] met, and the film, American Revolution 2  became the story of the Rainbow Coalition in Chicago, which was Appalachian whites, Puerto Ricans and Blacks. The Coalition frightened official Chicago enormously.” HOWARD ALK


According to Alk, “American Revolution 2 did very well critically, but very badly theatrically.” (This was partly due to Mayor Daley strong-arming the Screen Projectors Union into not showing the film, but more on this later.) Yet, its impact was not small. The film was one of the first to receive a four-star review from a young Roger Ebert working at the Chicago Sun-Times; was lugged and shown around Europe by Jean-Luc Godard; prompted a response film from the police titled What Trees Do They Plant?; and premiered at the Playboy Theater in April, 1969, after Hugh Hefner heard of Mayor Daley’s action to suppress it. Alk and Gray’s account of the Rainbow Coalition’s genesis combines the fuel and the fire of a burgeoning revolution, marked by cogent political arguments and honest depictions of daily struggle.


Members of The Film Group Howard Alk and Mike Gray were both firebrand filmmakers in their own right. Prior to his work with The Film Group, Alk co-founded The Second City theater troupe, collaborated with D.A. Pennebaker on Don’t Look Back and Festival, and edited the bohemian opus You Are What You Eat. He followed up American Revolution 2 with The Murder of Fred Hampton, an account of the eponymous Illinois Black Panther Party leader and his murder at the hands of the Chicago Police Department, and several projects involving counterculture musical icons such as Janis, a documentary about Janis Joplin that earned him a nomination for Best Documentary Film at the Golden Globes in 1975. Gray, who worked on over fifty film and television projects with Alk, eventually moved to Hollywood where he wrote the Palme d’Or nominee The China Syndrome, directed the alien-conspiracy-thriller Wavelength, and produced multiple episodes of Star Trek: The New Generation.


Text written by Nicolas Pedrero-Setzer. American Revolution 2 is provided by The Chicago Film Archives. Special thanks to Mickey Gral.