East End Film Festival: Children of the Revolution Review

If The Wonder Years – that much-cherished teenage chronicle of ‘60s and ‘70s American suburbia – had a Cold War cousin to race against (and how could it be anything other than a race?), it wouldn’t be difficult to imagine Shane O’Sullivan’s Children of the Revolution being that particular cinematic Sputnik. They may not be as slick and self-aware in the voiceover department, but the documentary’s subjects – Bettina and May (daughters of leading female “terrorist” revolutionaries Ulrike Meinhof and Fusako Shigenobu respectively) – could certainly give Kevin Arnold and friends a run for their money when it comes to home movie footage.

A densely packed treasure trove of archive newsreel, the film acts as a guided tour of tumult – from the student revolutions of 1968, via Vietnam, Communism, the Baader Meinhof Group and Japanese Red Army, their attempts to destroy capitalist power and the subsequent chrysalis of revolutionary terrorism as we all can’t help but know it.

But it’s how that archive footage interacts with the childhoods of Bettina and May, essentially representing the background to their particular lives like some very well-compiled home video collection, that makes this documentary so unique in bringing the period and its players palpably alive. Through their commentary, and their sheer unstoppable growth to maturity as exceptional women in their own right, the film is able to explore the past and interrogate the present simultaneously, as if probing a single tangible entity, still alive and well and connected by blood (and crises of capitalism) through the decades.

Ironically the film fails to capitalise on the efficiency that should come with such singularity of content and form, instead descending into a lengthy one note executive summary of itself towards the end. And without a fitting crescendo to do it justice, the body of the film shifts from compellingly promising to compromisingly plain. They may have been Communism’s revolutionary Wonder Years, but even Kevin Arnold knows that home movie archives alone aren’t enough to make memorable film and TV. Without an inspirational denouement – be it teenage voiceover giving way to Joe Cocker’s gritty croon, or a rousing conclusion about modern capitalism in crisis – it takes more than a little help from friends to win this particular race.


Densely packed personal tour through revolutionary terrorism that’s worth taking, but don’t expect magic or mystery from its final destination.

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