The anarchists is a six-part docuseries, directed by Todd Schramke, that shows the rise of the anarchist movement and its effects on the Mexican resort town of Acapulco. When we speak of “lawlessness” with regard to this group, we are not speaking of people who favor the lawless melee. No, they are generally peaceful people who think that autonomy is more efficient and more liberating than government. Schramke, who appears on camera and narrates the docuseries, filmed the docuseries over six years, deepening the move as he went.
Opening shot: A bonfire on the beach. Although it looks peaceful at first, then you realize it’s a group of people throwing books of all kinds. The group includes their children.
The essential: Schramke, in his research, first focused on Jeff Berwick, a leader of the anarchist movement who moved to Acapulco in the 2010s, intrigued not only by its resort town vibe, but by the fact that he seemed let everything go. He founded a conference called Anarcapulco, which has grown exponentially since its launch in 2015.
Berwick, however, was always more of a proselytizer and inspirational type than an organizational genius; he knew from his 90s in Silicon Valley that he liked building companies but not running them. So when he meets Lisa and Nathan Freeman, a couple who attended the very disorganized first Anarcapulco, they formed a partnership. The following conference was much better organized, attracted high-profile speakers, and received attention from cryptocurrency companies and others who aligned themselves with anarchist anti-government messages.
But as the movement grew and more anarchists found a home in Acapulco, the more the city attracted “do what you want” types, including John Galton and Lily Forester, who are arrived at the second Anarchapulco as fugitives. after being hit with a series of marijuana possession charges in Ohio.
What shows will this remind you of? The closest analogue of The anarchists we can think is Q: In the stormand not just because the anarchist movement and people who believe in QAnon conspiracy theories both have a deep distrust of government, but also because both docuseries examine the divisions and rivalries in their respective movements.
Our opinion : When we watched the first 40 minutes or so of the first episode of The anarchists, we rolled our eyes. We thought it was going to be six episodes full of mostly white men railing against the government and showing people how to protect their money from the greedy fingers of the IRS and other agencies that collect taxes on us.
But when Schramke started telling the story of Galton and Forester, we saw where this docuseries was going. This is not the story of this movement against the government, but rather the story of how the people who sowed the seeds of the movement in Acapulco found themselves in conflict with the people Anarchapulco attracted during of its relatively short existence.
On the one hand you have the purists like Berwick and the Freemans, who believe that anarchy is beyond the control of government. On the other side, you have Galton and Forester, who are closer to the common vision of anarchists: people who want to do what they want.
What intrigued us in the last 15 minutes of the first episode was that both Berwick and Lisa Freeman explained how the “crazy people” came to Acapulco, turning a situation where there was relative peace into near chaos.
It also thrust the city itself into the spotlight; Schramke takes a few minutes in the first episode to examine how Acapulco went from a glamorous resort town for the rich and famous in the 1950s and 1980s to one of the most dangerous cities in the world about 15 years ago. It’s a bit infuriating when you see a video of Berwick and Nathan Freeman mocking the town’s “bad reputation”, thinking it’s safe for anyone not caught up in the cartel (which tells us that the anarchist movement might have more than a little bigotry running through it).
But at the end of the episode, we see Berwick saying that the city gives back tenfold what someone puts into it. It’s a sign of someone who’s been around for a while, seeing how dangerous it can be for those who come here looking to get away with something rather than join the movement, and has a vision a bit more temperate than the arrogant one we saw at the start of the episode.
This is what we can’t wait to see on The anarchists. Not so much of a reward, but just an opinion from people like Berwick or the Freemans that there is no ideal society, even though they tried to create one through Anarchapalooza. The larger a movement grows, the more likely there are members of the movement who not only don’t get along, but who openly cause trouble. Showing that it’s no different than any other community or movement will draw more people to the show than if it were just a rather favorable look at a fringe movement.
Sex and skin: None.
Farewell shot: “If you don’t ask yourself the right questions, you can end up dying,” says Forester.
Sleeping Star: In a way, it’s Schramke, for his ability to trust the main players in this movement, let him in for six years and tell him the whole arc of this story.
The most pilot line: There is a discussion of “unschooling”, which seems reasonable at first glance, but also sounds like something that can be done by people with means and time, which is not really discussed.
Our call: SPREAD IT. Whether The anarchists were only about the movement itself, it would be boring and exasperating. But since this is about how the movement has been infiltrated by people who have made things increasingly chaotic and violent, we’re ready to see where the rest of the series goes.
Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and technology, but he’s not fooling himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Slate, Salon, RollingStone.com, VanityFair.comFast Company and elsewhere.