Quakers: The Quiet Revolutionaries
Quakerism began in 1647 when the 23 year old George Fox, born in Northern England, reached a low point in his search for true spirituality. The word “quakers” was originally an insult but its usage spread. The Religious Society of Friends did not emerge as the formal name of the group until the early 19th century.
They walk a line between faith and activism standing on the shoulders of iconic quakers who fought to make the world a better place.
Through non-violent struggles of key Quaker pioneers in abolition, suffrage, civil rights, economic and ecological justice, the film explores how Quaker values have become a driving force in American democracy, yet somehow out of the spotlight.
Film Website: quakersthefilm.com
- Janet Gardner — Producer/Director
- Richard Nurse — Narrator and Co-Producer
- Janet Gardner, Richard Nurse, Elena Mannes — Writers
- Kevin Cloutier — Director of Photography
- Doug Johnson — Sound Editor and Mixer
- Stuart Wareing — Sound Recordist (UK)
- Jack Mehlbaum — Sound Recordist (USA)
- Laura Israel, Chelsea A. Smith, Michael Grenadier — Editors
- John Vondracek — Graphic Design & Animation
- Cynthia Edwards, Veronique Gauvin, Sopheap Theam — Associate Producers
- Max Carter, Director, Friends Center and Quaker Studies,
- Ben Pink Dandelion, Hon. Professor in Quaker Studies,
U. of Birmingham, UK
- Thomas D. Hamm, Prof. of History,
Curator, Quaker Collection,
- Candace McCoy, Prof. of Criminal Justice,
John Jay College of Criminal Justice
- Andrew R. Murphy, Professor of Political Science,
- Delia Pitts,
- John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation
- New Jersey Historical Commission
- Millennium Pharmaceuticals
- International Flavors & Fragrances Foundation
- Melanie Cendana & Keith Yeager
- Wen Chyi Shyu & James E. Hook
- Christopher & Edith Morren Family Fund
- John Spears
- Obadiah Brown’s Benevolent Fund
- Tyson Memorial Fund
- John Pemberton Fund
- Isabel & Matthew Zisk
- Libbie Counselman
- Peter Janney
- Thomas H. & Mary Williams Shoemaker Fund
- D’Olier Foundation
- Philip Gilbert
Volume 110, Number 2, Fall 2021, Friends Historical Association
Reviewed by Frederick Martin
An ambitious and inspiring documentary film intended for the general public, Quakers: The Quiet Revolutionaries provides a broad introduction both to Quakers as a contemporary religious group—primarily the more liberal part—and to the history of Quakers in early modern England and in America. Award-winning documentary film director Janet Paxton Gardner and senior producer Richard A. Nurse worked with a star-studded cast of Quaker historians and scholars, both as consultants (Max Carter, Ben Pink Dandelion, Thomas Hamm, Candace McCoy, and Andrew Murphy) and as on-screen interviewees, ensuring that the factual background and the general narrative of particular sections are authoritative. Indeed, as he introduced a screening at the Friends General Conference Gathering in 2020 Nurse joked tongue-in-cheek about how the ongoing research "led to dozens and dozens of tiresome corrections, reshoots, and film edits, to get the thing right. We hope it's made us better Quakers." Gardner mixes a wealth of visual imagery (photographs, maps, prints, portraits, historic buildings) with occasional scenes of re-enactors playing such figures as William Penn and John Woolman, making viewing absorbing and enjoyable.
As any such work must, the film emphasizes a particular storyline, in this case social reformers and activists such as Woolman, Lucretia Mott, Levi Coffin, Alice Paul, and Bayard Rustin, with present-day activist concerns represented by the Earth Quaker Action Team. The descriptions of contemporary faith and practice bear a recognizable connection to the filmmakers' context in Philadelphia Yearly Meeting and other parts of the liberal, unprogrammed branch. They do make a good effort to present the breadth of Quaker history and current practice, showing scenes in Kenyan and evangelical American Friends churches, and mentioning the nineteenth century splits and missionary work. One wonders what expressions of faith and which parts of Quaker history members of these branches might have chosen to emphasize were they making the film.
Happily, the film's willingness to reflect on unexpected results and revised understandings of Quaker history gives viewers many opportunities to ask just such questions. Examples include the observation that William Penn owned slaves juxtaposed with acknowledgment of his influence on political and religious liberty; and mention of the beginnings of solitary confinement in Quaker prison reform. Additional uncomplimentary chapters could have been included, such as the large numbers of eighteenth-century Quakers who enslaved their workers in Barbados and Rhode Island, and the nineteenth-century Quaker support of Indian boarding schools which attempted to eradicate Native American culture; nevertheless, compressing all of Quaker history into the scope of an hour (or 79 minutes in the extended version) inevitably means omissions and trade-offs. The film still provides plenty of food for thought, noting for instance the conflicts among different kinds of American Quakers during the presidencies of Hoover and Nixon, and the resistance to integrating Quaker schools around the time of the civil rights movement.
These instances of reassessment framed within a generally idealistic tone, along with the chapter-based structure, encourage further investigation and make the film a versatile resource for classroom use in high school and college courses in history and religious studies. Among Quaker congregations looking for an overview of Quaker history and beliefs for group study, some meetings will find familiar touchstones while others may find their version of the faith acknowledged but less well represented. Broadcast on public television stations reaching audiences of hundreds of thousands, the film has already had a deservedly wide impact, and provides a stirring summary of Quaker social impact well-contextualized within the scope of wider Quaker history.
The Friend (UK)
July 10, 2020
by Elinor Smallman
A film focused on Friends made its UK debut at the end of June.
Quakers: the Quiet Revolutionaries aired on the PBS America channel on Freeview on 25 June.
The documentary tackles common misconceptions early on, including the infamous confusion around porridge, then charts Quaker history from its roots up to the present day, with a focus on the United States.
A wide range of Quaker voices are featured, with interviews of a number of Friends, and an exploration of the influence, ministry and activism of figures such as George Fox, Margaret Fell, John Woolman, Lucretia Mott, Alice Paul, Bayard Rustin and George Lakey, along with many others.
Footage of Meeting for Worship tends to focus on unprogrammed silent worship, but the film-makers also include contributions from evangelical programmed Friends.
The founding of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) and the significance of two Quaker presidents are highlighted in modern history, as is activism like the Quaker-led protests against the PNC Bank for financing mountaintop removal coal mining.
The film doesn't shy away from poor Quaker behaviour though. For example, it describes the role that Friends played in the introduction of solitary confinement as a form of imprisonment in the US, and the continuation of racial segregation in Quaker schools until it was made illegal in 1954.
Richard Seebohm, of Oxford Meeting, told Eye that he felt the film 'gives a sympathetic and well-documented history, albeit with a very American slant'.
He added: 'The AFSC gets a mention, but not the Friends Committee on National Legislation, which lobbies Washington. New to me is Friends Fiduciary, which combines investment management for Quakers with a very public stance on corporate behaviour. Other omissions in what is a very wide coverage include the Quaker business method.'
Overall the documentary deftly handles nuanced aspects of Quakerism while remaining concise, so Eye wasn't surprised to learn that the director and producer, Janet Paxton Gardner, is a Friend from Princeton Meeting and has served on a number of peace and social concern committees. She founded The Gardner Group in 1990 to direct and produce documentaries, 'committed to giving history a human face'.
For Friends who would like to see the film, a DVD is expected this summer and those who are interested can sign up to the mailing list on quakersthefilm.com to be notified when it becomes available.
February 1, 2019
New Hope Film Festival
June 30, 2018
- INDIEFEST (2023) – Award of Merit, the film also received the Award of Merit in the category of Religion/Ethics
- NEW HOPE FILM FESTIVAL (2018) – Audience Choice Award for Best Documentary
- FLICKERS’ RHODE ISLAND INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL (2018) – Flickers’ International Humanitarian Award Grand Prize
Given annually to films or filmmakers who inspire social change and community outreach and strive to better the world in which we live.
- LOUDOUN INTERNATIONAL FILM EXTRAVAGANZA (LIFE) 2019 – Audience Choice Award
- NEW JERSEY FILM FESTIVAL SPRING 2019 – Honorable Mention