Talking about a Revolution: WBCN documentary one of 25 films featured in three-day fest

David Bieber/Courtesy photoThe WBCN radio air staff is shown circa 1969 at their studios, 312 Stuart St., Boston. The documentary film "WBCN and The American Revolution" sold out its Saturday night screening at the Firehouse Center for the Arts in Newburyport and has added a second show at the Screening Room on Sunday.

More than a few stories in the Newburyport Documentary Film Festival weave New England into the tales.

“Peace Out” cleaves close to home. 

It tells of a retired Newburyport man’s desire to finish something he started 45 years earlier — a cross-country journey.

That adventure ended soon after Jerry Steimel, then 22, left his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, in a Volkswagen Beetle.

All these years later, Steimel resumes his quest, this time in a 1966 VW bus. His wife, Dianne, trails him in her vehicle with a video camera. She’s the film’s director.

“I created ‘Peace Out’ as a homage to his dream and to all dreams which sometimes get deferred but with perseverance can find new life,” she said.

The 39-minute film will be shown at the Screening Room at the start of the festival’s second day, Saturday, as part of a trio of short films.

Another film with Massachusetts roots is the feature-length production “WBCN and The American Revolution.”

The Saturday night screening at the Firehouse Center for the Arts is already sold out — which may be a first for the festival — and organizers have scheduled a second showing on Sunday afternoon at the Screening Room.

Director Bill Lichtenstein said that the film documents the radio station’s integral role in the peace movement of the 1960s and ’70s.

“In a way, the film tells the true story of the ’60s,” he said.

San Francisco and New York were at the vanguard of the peace and love movement.

Boston, however, teeming with college students, assumed a leadership position by demanding political change.

Protests sprang up — against the war in Vietnam and the military draft — and groups emerged, advocating for civil rights, women and LGBTQ-liberation movements.

Cities in other parts of the country followed with similar actions, energized by Boston’s initiative.

WBCN was at the center of the movement, Lichenstein said.

At 14, Lichtenstein volunteered at the station on its Listener Line and later worked as a WBCN newscaster and announcer.

The station’s early philosophy was to engage with the audience and form a community. People would call the station to talk and seek help, say finding a ride or finding a lost dog.

This took time away from the disc jockeys’ music playing responsibilities, so the radio brought in volunteers to listen to callers and field questions. 

“The Google of its day,” Lichtenstein said.

For decades, New Englanders tuned into the groundbreaking Boston radio station to hear emerging voices in rock ’n’ roll.

The station got its start in the spring of 1968 broadcasting from the back of The Boston Tea Party nightclub on Berkeley Street in the South End.

Led Zeppelin, The Who, Van Morrison and The Kinks played the club; so did blues greats B.B. King, Howlin’ Wolf and John Lee Hooker. 

This music was new to a lot of people’s ears. What also was new was musicians dropping in to the radio station’s studio to talk and play live.

Archival material in the film includes Noam Chomsky, Abbie Hoffman, Jane Fonda, Jerry Garcia, Duane Allman, Lou Reed, Bruce Springsteen and Patti Smith.

The film shows Springsteen in his first radio interview and Smith performing in her first live radio broadcast.

“The story is told through the extraordinary history of WBCN, which in its early days called itself ‘The American Revolution,’’’ Lichenstein said. 

“It’s been a thrill to experience audience reaction to this film,” he said. “Whether in San Jose, California; Washington, D.C.; or here in New England, viewers have been amazed to see how this radical, underground radio station rallied its listeners, created a community and caused an impact that rippled across the nation, changing our shared culture and political direction.”

Lichtenstein said that talks are underway to show the film on PBS.

Also afoot is a fundraising campaign to support mainstream distribution of the documentary to theaters nationwide. Details are at www.seethefilm.com.

The Friday night opening film is “Beers of Joy.”

It starts at 7:30 p.m. and will be followed by a question-and-answer session.

Four people travel wide as they immerse themselves in their passion for beer. They are an acclaimed brewer, a celebrated chef and two advanced beer connoisseurs.

The connoisseurs are taking one of the most difficult tests in the world, the Master Cicerone exam (beer’s equivalent to wine’s Master Sommelier), according to the film synopsis.

IF YOU GO

What: Newburyport Documentary Film Festival

When: Friday through Sunday

Where: Firehouse Center for the Arts, Market Square, and Screening Room, 82 State St.

How much: Films before 7:30 p.m. are $12 for adults and $10 for students. Evening films are $20 and $18. All-access passes are $125, and day passes are $100. All tickets are available at the Firehouse box office, by phone at 978-462-7336 and online at www.firehouse.org. The Student Film Showcase, Work in Progress Workshop and Filmmaker Roundtable are free.

More information: www.nbptdocufest.org

FESTIVAL SCHEDULE

FRIDAY

7:30 p.m.: “Beers of Joy,” Firehouse

SATURDAY

10 a.m.: “Hail Satan?” at Firehouse; “Thursday Fields,” “Motorcycle Man” and “Peace Out,” Screening Room; Student Film Showcase, Central Congregational Church, 14 Titcomb St.

Noon: “Eat Up,” Firehouse; “Stories of Intersex and Faith,” Screening Room

1:45 p.m.: “The Pollinators,” Firehouse; “It Was All So Wonderful” and “The Vision of Ulysses Davis,” Screening Room

3:30 p.m.: Work in Progress: “Films in the Living Room,” Screening Room

3:45 p.m.: “Last Man Fishing,” “The Last Trap Family” and “Recipe for Disaster: Green Crabs in the Great Marsh,” Firehouse

5 p.m.: Filmmaker Roundtable, The Port Tavern, second floor, 84 State St.

7:30 p.m.: “WBCN and The American Revolution,” Firehouse (sold out)

SUNDAY

10 a.m.: “Well Groomed,” Firehouse; “Rigged: The Voter Suppression Playbook,” Screening Room

11:45 a.m.: “The Last American Colony,” Firehouse; “Born in America,” “A Blue Sky Like No Other” and “Reclamation: The Rise at Standing Rock,” Screening Room

1:45 p.m.: “Pariah Dog,” Firehouse; “Sending Off,” Screening Room

3:30 p.m.: “Who Killed Lt. Van Dorn?” at Firehouse; “WBCN and The American Revolution,” Screening Room

5:15 p.m.: “Sing You a Brand New Song,” Firehouse

6:45 p.m.: “Runner,” Firehouse

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