Stanley Nelson’s gripping and thorough documentary on the Black Panther Party is the first in his series of three films about the black experience in America.

The documentarian — best known for the immersive and devastating Jonestown: The Life and Death of the People’s Temple — is highly skilled at assembling and arranging archival footage, photographs and first-person accounts for maximum impact.

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The Black Panthers began in Oakland in 1966 as a group of young black men who used their right to bear arms in an effort to hold police accountable for their actions in the black community. They would show up at the scene of a police situation, and let their presence — and very visible weaponry — provide a potent counter-intimidation factor.

Remember, this was not an era where the populace carried tiny film cameras in their pockets, allowing them to document what they described as daily police oppression and brutality.

The group soon grows in members, allies, sympathizers and powerful enemies. J. Edgar Hoover, who was rumored to have hidden his own black heritage, wages full-scale urban warfare against the party with the full support of the federal government. He insists they are the greatest internal threat to national security, even though his true intention is to squash the group before the average white American begins to empathize with their cause.

There is a real, authentic police presence in the film, as Nelson interviews several officers who dealt directly with the party. They make one thing very clear: the Panthers’ seething hatred of police stoked the police’s boiling hatred of the Panthers and their ilk — but only one side had the backing of the status quo.

The Black Panthers took about seven years for Nelson to complete, but it seems like it was finished and released at the right time .Current relations between law enforcement and many black communities make 1966 and 2015 feel interchangeable at times. But an armed citizenry — either with weapons or smartphones — is going to have to work a lot harder than the Panthers did to effect any real change.

Nelson doesn’t have any answers; just cold, naked history.

The next two films in his series will focus on the history of black colleges and universities, and the slave trade.

The Black Panthers: Vanguard Of The Revolution is playing at 3:15 p.m.

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~ Stephen Swanson

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(credit: Latido)

(credit: Latido)

Other Highlights For Sunday, April 19

Behavior (Ernesto Daranas, Cuba) Now that relations between the U.S. and Cuba have warmed, why not catch a great Cuban drama that made waves back home. Behavior (pictured above) is about an 11-year-old boy who fights dogs and trains pigeons to escape his troubled home life. (3:45 p.m.)

Life In A Fishbowl (Baldvin Zophoníasson, Iceland) One of Iceland’s highest-grossing films of all time, Fishbowl takes place during the 2008 economic crisis – which is the catalyst that brings together a struggling teacher-turned prostitute, a wealthy alcoholic who acts homeless and a former soccer star-turned banker. (9 p.m.)

Magicarena (Andrea Prandstraller & Niccolo Bruna, Italy) Fura dels Baus is an avant-garde Spanish theater troupe that was a forerunner to Canada’s Cirque du Soleil. This insightful and eye-popping documentary features the troupe as they prepare for a once-in-a-lifetime performance of Verdi’s Aida in Italy’s ancient Verona Arena. (1:15 p.m.)

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For the festival schedule, and a complete listing of all the movies being shown, click here. Ticket information is available here.

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Throughout the entirety of the 2015 Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival, WCCO.com will be spotlighting one notable movie each day, along with other notable screenings. To see WCCO.com’s complete coverage on the MSPIFF, click here.