The Camden 28

PBS Premiere: Sept. 11, 2007Check the broadcast schedule »

Production Journal

POV: Tell us about your aesthetic choices in making The Camden 28.

Anthony Giacchino: The most important thing for me was to tell the story without using narration. I wanted this story to be told through the participants themselves — the Camden 28, the informer, the FBI agents, the prosecutors, the defense attorneys. But that was hard to do — it would have been a lot easier sometimes to just have written a few lines of narration. Also, I really wanted to create tension and give the audience a real sense of betrayal because the key for me is that one of the group, a friend, betrayed them and turned them in. I thought a lot about how could I make the audience feel a little bit of how it must have felt to the Camden 28. Eventually I thought of just putting him in like he was one of the group, and then when they're arrested, reveal that he was the informer.

It's a lot of fun sitting in audiences and watching the reaction of people when they find out that Bob Hardy was the informer. Often he's the favorite character up until that point. Also, we shot a lot of footage of the federal building and around Camden with an 8-millimeter camera from the time period because footage with our regular cameras just didn't feel right. We tried to make it feel like it was shot at that time.

POV: The Camden 28 could easily have been a narrative film, so why choose documentary?

Giacchino: Upon hearing the story of the Camden 28, I thought that it had all the elements of great narrative film: a Hollywood movie about friendship and betrayal, and a child's death, and the theme of redemption. But if you watched that movie, you'd probably sit there and think to yourself, "All of this couldn't have happened. I'm sure that they embellished a lot of this." I wanted to make sure that people understood that this really was what happened, that it wasn't some story that came out of someone's imagination. It was real.

Also, I love history. When I was in high school in '86 and '87, I had this crazy idea that I was going to tape-record my life and everything I did with my friends. That lasted almost ten years, and I have hundreds of cassette tapes in my parents' basement of just me and my friends doing whatever we were doing. I always thought that I'll listen to that in 50 years, and it will be a neat record. The point is that I've always been interested in documentary to save history.

POV: How many members of the Camden 28 did you interview and how did you decide which members to include?

Giacchino: We interviewed seven or eight members of the Camden 28, but we talked to and corresponded with a number of others across the country. We decided to stick with the core group of people, like Father Michael Doyle,Mike Giocondo, Gene Dixon and Bob Hardy, who were from Camden. I thought that looking at the action and trial through a small group, rather than all 28, was the most effective way to tell the story. It was hard to explain to some of them that they wouldn't be in the film because I knew it was an extremely important moment in all of their lives, and I had to explain that it was a filmmaking technique — to make it easier for the audience to follow — and had nothing to do with not wanting to hear what they had to say. One of them who was not in the film told me that she appreciated that I picked the story that was the most meaningful to me, the story of friendship and betrayal.

POV: The Camden 28 uses actors to recreate the walkie-talkie conversations that took place between the group members while they broke into the federal building. What led you to incorporate this reenactment into the film?

Giacchino: When they were breaking in and had people posted around the city, the FBI was monitoring them and recording all of their conversations. I had a copy of a transcript of that evening, including their walkie-talkie conversations, but not the actual audiotapes. I just loved the fact that these priests were on walkie-talkies, talking about breaking in — not only was it surreptitious, but it was kind of comical. I wanted that to be in the film so badly, and I had the actual words from the transcripts. John Swinglish actually played himself, and three actor friends of mine read. One was in Boston, one was in Maryland and two were in New York, and I conference-called them. They all had copies of their scripts, so we just did it over and over again while I had the microphone up to the speakerphone to make it sound like they were on walkie-talkies. I felt that it was fair to do that because I didn't make it up.