Review of School Under Siege (2023)

Moving picture, 74 minutes

Seen in 2023.

Interactions between Gothenburg police and activists from out of town, in 2001. The activists came to participate in seminars and protests surrounding a June 2001 European Council meeting. They were accommodated at Hvitfeldtska gymnasiet, a downtown high school. Rather than letting them attend, police barricaded the entire school when US President George W. Bush’s plane landed.

For an account closer to the events and broader in focus, see Terrorists: The Kids They Sentenced (2003). School Under Siege is just about the people at the school, and its first half is partly about the process of their anamnesis: Finding eye witnesses, analog photos and video tape in shoe boxes around Scandinavia, and then piecing together the sequence of events from primary sources. The second half shows more video from the events.

As a side effect of the anamnetic motif, the narrative takes on a generational dimension. I was not in Gothenburg then, but I was 18 at the time, like many of the people in the school. Watching this film in 2023 makes me feel as I imagine that somebody would feel who was born in 1950, was 18 in 1968, and went to see a documentary about the protests of 1968 in 1989. School Under Siege knits a web of deep, generational meaning around events just before the September 11 attacks; a time that now seems distant and therefore ripe for mythology.

To the credit of the two brothers who made the film, it is consistently humble and fact-based. However, there is only a single mention of Seattle, the site of the 1999 WTO protests. There is no attempt here to trace the path from Seattle to the fear that led the police to renege on its promises and barricade Hvitfeldtska. No spokesperson for the police is interviewed. The film, in fact, does not explain the disaster at its centre. Another three minutes to put the events in context would have helped prevent mythopoesis.

moving picture non-fiction