Activist Video Archive

Preserving progressive, multicultural voices of Los Angeles area activists and philanthropists.

Preserving progressive, multicultural voices of Los Angeles area activists and philanthropists.

The Political Life of Allard K. Lowenstein

Gold Award
Houston Film Festival

Red Ribbon
American Film Festival

Certificate of Merit
Chicago Film Festival

When the former US Congressman and US Representative to the UN Commission on Human Rights Lowenstein was shot and killed in his office in New York City, Mike Farrell and Julie Thompson joined forces to make a documentary about Lowenstein's political life. Citizen earned the Gold Award at the Houston International Film Festival, Red Ribbon Award at the American Film Festival, Certificate of Merit at the Chicago International Film Festival.

In chronicling the career of political activist and former New York Congressman Allard K. Lowenstein, this documentary vividly recreates the civil rights and antiwar struggles that raged through the last two decades of American history, in the process giving us a moving and inspiring portrait of a man who played a key role in organizing those movements, until his untimely shooting death in March 1980 by a former campaign worker who was subsequently declared insane.

Combining archival footage and photographs with over two dozen interviews, the film traces Lowenstein's life from his formative childhood influences to the political causes that motivated his adult life, including: his lifelong involvement beginning in the 50's with human rights issues in South Africa; his efforts in the early 60's in the South in voter registration campaigns and other civil rights struggles; his opposition to U.S, involvement in Vietnam, which included founding the "Dump Johnson" movement and becoming a principal organizer of Eugene McCarthy's Presidential campaign; his 1968 election to Congress and his subsequent career in electoral politics in which he sought to extend the function of office beyond the narrow concerns of ward politics and vested interests; and his work with Ambassador Andrew Young and the Human Rights Commission at the United Nations.

In addition to scenes of Lowenstein himself, and stirring newsreel footage of political events throughout the 60's and 70's, the film features interviews with over thirty of his friends, family members and political associates, including journalist David Halberstam, Senator Edward Kennedy, former SNCC activist Ivanhoe Donaldson, Rick Weidman of the Vietnam Veterans of America, William F. Buckley, Jr., Aaron Henry, President of the Mississippi NAACP, community activist Sam Brown, and Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary. "Citizen" highlights the importance and efficacy of Al Lowenstein's belief in the need to involve people in the shaping of their lives and influencing society around them. The film is a compelling illustration of his contention that "one person can make a difference." 

A lot of young people in this country got their political feet wet because of Al. Al was a good inspiration. He got people involved. Regardless of whether one agrees with his politics at given points in his history, clearly he was an energy force. He rallied you. He said you ought to go out and do something about the world you lived in. He showed you how to do that. He gave you a plat-form.
— Ivanhoe Donaldson
What Al’s life symbolizes is not how easy it is to change the system, although it can be done, and I think there’s clear evidence of that, both in the South and in Vietnam that it can be done. But like Ralph Nader, in the very value of committing yourself to do something like that. That it is the doing that is of the essence.
— David Halberstam
The one thread that ran through his life was human rights. Human rights is what got him invovled so deeply into Africa. Human rights is what made him march in Mississippi. Human rights is what go him involved in the “dump Johnson” campaign - his belief that we should not be in Vietnam. Human rights is what moti-vated him to run for public office. Human rights was the one thread that I think was Al Lowenstein.
— Midge Costanza
Al couldn’t conceive that you could live in this country and see people not well off or read about war or poverty, those basics, and not want to do anything about it. He couldn’t resist it. He couldn’t resist it anymore than a pyromaniac could walk past a fire. And he also figured correctly for alot of people that nothing would make them feel better about themselves and that they would enjoy it. He was the original try it you’ll like it guy.
— Rep. Barney Frank inspiring portrait of a man who threw all of his considerable energies into the causes of others. . . it springs to vivid life during newsreel footage of the civil rights struggles and interviews such as the one with an old black woman, who tells of going to the polls seven times before she was allowed to register.
— The Hollywood Reporter
...a passionate bio-documentary...Excellently edited, extremely well-researched and presented, this film is a must for all collections.
— Library Journal
An informative and intelligent portrait... Should be required viewing for every political science student.
— Educational Film Library Association

Allard Lowenstein in the News - 2018

The RFK Tapes, hosted by Zac Stuart-Pontier (Crimetown) and Bill Klaber (author, Shadow Play), is an audio documentary series that takes a new look at the 1968 assassination of Robert F. Kennedy. For the past fifty years, authorities have claimed that the case was open and shut. Sirhan Sirhan was captured at the scene, gun in hand. He admitted to the crime and is serving a life sentence. But some say there’s evidence of a larger conspiracy.

Episodes 2 and 3 chronicle Lowenstein's inquiry into RFK's assassination.

In this episode, Allard K. Lowenstein encourages Senator Robert F. Kennedy to run for president but ends up wheeling him into the morgue. Years later, when he picks up the autopsy report, Lowenstein is stunned at what he finds. Through intimate private recordings, we follow Lowenstein as he begins questioning the official version of his friend’s murder.

In this episode, as Allard K. Lowenstein continues his investigation into Senator Robert F. Kennedy's murder, he enlists the help of Paul Schrade, one of the surviving shooting victims in the case. Together, they force a reexamination of the evidence collected by the LAPD in an effort to determine, once and for all, if more than one gun was firing in the kitchen pantry.

“Everything that is tearing us down today will become a memory, and this memory will be shared as an anecdote or a story or a poem or a play or a warning. It will be shared with another human being, who will then understand that he is not alone in his sadness. This is why we show up for others and tell our tales and listen to others. The great congregation meets daily, and you are someone’s angel today.”

-Tennessee Williams/Interview with James Grissom

©2019 Sundays Well Productions