In 1970, William Powell wanted to help build a new society, so he taught the world how to blow up the old one. As the heady days of the late 60’s counterculture and political upheaval turned darker, Powell, at age 19, wrote one of the most infamous books ever published: The Anarchist Cookbook. Part manifesto and part bomb making manual, it went on to sell over 2 million copies. Since then, the Cookbook has been associated with decades of violent anti-government attacks, abortion clinic bombings, school shootings and homegrown domestic terrorism.
Now 65, Powell is a man haunted by his own creation, struggling to make sense of the damage it has done. After writing the book, Powell left the US and has lead an itinerant life ever since. He has traversed the globe teaching kids with special needs – committed, ironically, to the kinds of kids who in some cases have turned to violence and the Cookbook.
American Anarchist tells a cautionary tale of youthful rebellion and unforeseen consequences, a universal, all-too-human story of a man at the end of his life wrestling with his past, his identity, and coming to terms with who he really is.
In Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim, after a young seaman abandons ship risking the lives of passengers, he is tried in court and publicly disgraced. He hides his past for years, moving from job to job each time his secret is discovered. Conrad observes, “No man ever understands quite his own artful dodges to escape from the grim shadow of self knowledge.”
A persistent reminder of his own turbulent past, the Anarchist Cookbook is William Powell’s secret burden, his “constant companion” as he has called it. We all keep secrets from others and even ourselves. And we tell stories in order to make sense of our past or, for some, to escape it. My hope -- the hope of any filmmaker -- is that my subject, Bill’s story with all its artful dodges, might help us better understand one another and ourselves.