The People's Advocate: The Life and Times of Charles R. Garry



Mill Valley Film Festival

The Free History Project

MILL VALLEY, Calif. -- Charles R. Garry, the controversial working-class lawyer who defended '60s protestors and the Black Panthers, is venerated in Hrag Yedalian's admiring documentary, "The People's Advocate: The Life and Times of Charles R. Garry." A bare bones, ragged-around-the-edges enterprise, the film is nonetheless an illuminating portrait of a driven, deeply committed man and the turbulent era he lived in. First-time filmmaker Yedalian, who spent four years on this project, compiles television interviews with Garry, archival news footage of his trials and testimonials and reminiscences from a Who's Who of '60s radicals such as Huey P. Newton, Bobby Seale, Angela Davis and David Hilliard as well as Garry's brothers and assorted friends.

Garry didn't cut a particularly impressive figure or display the zeal for self-promotion of William Kunstler. Rather he was a soft-spoken, understated man, who looked more like a corporate vp than a tireless, civil rights advocate for the Left and the political radical's go to guy. The son of Armenian immigrants, Garry understood discrimination first hand. He grew up dirt poor in Fresno, studied law at night school and became a passionate, articulate defender of the disenfranchised and oppressed with whom he identified.

According to the film, he was a daunting adversary in the courtroom with a winning track record and a knack for putting the justice system on trial. In a few instances, Yedalian is given to hyperbole and overstates his case for how Garry revolutionized the legal system.

Garry represented Rev. Jim Jones and was present during the mass suicide at the compound in Guyana. Although Garry escaped unharmed and claimed that he wasn't aware of what was happening, his reputation was irreparably tarnished by the incident. Friends say that he returned a broken man and was never the same.

In 1991, he died of a stroke. Yedalian also includes a fascinating interview with Jones' son that adds a chilling coda to his father's thirst for domination and its impact on Garry's life.

The Apex Theory provides the offbeat, original score.