Investigation of a Flame: A Documentary Portrait of the Catonsville Nine

"Our apologies, good friends, for the fracture of good order, the burning of paper instead of children, the angering of the orderlies in the front parlor of the charnel house... The time is past when good men can remain silent, when obedience can segregate men from public risk, when the poor can die without defense."
— The Catonsville Nine

On May 17, 1968 nine Vietnam War protesters, including a nurse, an artist and three priests, walked into a Catonsville, Maryland draft board office, grabbed hundreds of selective service records and incinerated them with homemade napalm.

INVESTIGATION OF A FLAME is an intimate look at this unlikely, disparate band of resisters - the Catonsville Nine as they came to be known - who broke the law in a poetic act of civil disobedience. The publicity and news coverage from the ensuing trial helped galvanize an increasingly disillusioned American public.

INVESTIGATION OF A FLAME explores this protest - an action more common in the 1960's - within in the context of these extremely different times, times in which foes of Middle East peace agreements, abortion and technology resort to violence to access the public imagination.

Filmmaker Lynne Sachs has combined long unseen archival footage with a series of informal interviews of Daniel Berrigan, Philip Berrigan, Howard Zinn, John Hogan, Tom Lewis, and Marjorie and Tom Melville to encourage viewers to ponder the relevance of such events today.

"This is a documentary about the protest events that made Catonsville, Maryland, an unpretentious suburb... a flash point for citizens resistance at the height of the war."—New York Times

"A highly personal, compelling 'anti-documentary' record of a once celebrated, now forgotten protest."—San Francisco Weekly

"To those who think that everything in a society and its culture must move in lock step at times of crisis, INVESTIGATION OF A FLAME might seem to be off-message. But the film is in essence patriotic... saluting U.S. democracy as it pays homage to the U.S. tradition of dissent."—The Baltimore Sun

"Very well done (and it told me things I didn't know). A fine job of mixing the interviews, original footage... In particular, it makes clear what civil disobedience REALLY means."—Professor James Patterson, Ford Foundation Professor of History, Brown University

"Artfully revisits this footnote to recent history... Sachs cannily avoids the usual documentary dance of talking heads and file footage by interspersing impressionistic shots. [The film] provides a potent reminder that some Americans are willing to pay a heavy price to promote peace."—Baltimore City Paper

"Excellent and Highly Recommended!. Contributes to a better understanding of the non-declared war era."—Historical Media Review

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Select Accolades

  • Golden Gate Award, 2002 San Francisco International Film Festival
  • Director's Citation, 2002 Black Maria Film and Video Festival
  • 2002 Ann Arbor Film Festival
  • 2002 New York Underground Film Festival


The landmark collaboration between Jean-Luc Godard, Joris Ivens, William Klein, Claude Lelouch, Chris Marker and Alain Resnais in protest of the Vietnam war.

Jean-Luc Godard, Joris Ivens, William Klein, Claude Lelouch, Chris Marker, and Alain Resnais | 2013 | 115 minutes | Color | English; French | English subtitles

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