John Brown's Holy War

He is the father of American terrorism -- and an inspiration to the Civil Rights movement. More than 150 years after his execution, questions swirl around John Brown: Was he a madman or a martyr? A bloodthirsty fanatic or a great American hero?

Drawing on interviews with historians and writers, including novelist Russell Banks, and stunning dramatic reenactments, John Brown's Holy War traces one man's obsessive battle against human bondage. As a child, Brown witnessed brutality against a slave boy; later, he swore an oath to God to fight slavery. A failed farmer and father or 20, Brown was an unlikely warrior. But in Kansas, he led a murderous campaign that ignited all-out warfare. And his raid on the federal arsenal at Harper's Ferry, Virginia in 1859 sparked the Civil War.

John Brown saw himself as God's messenger. Others thought him no more than a killer. John Brown's Holy War takes us inside this complex man--farmer and warrior, family man and avenging angel, to reveal the man behind the legend.


"This taut film by Robert Kenner is as moody and lyrical as Ken Burns' extravaganza, but way more disturbing. Kenner's film techniques range from the still clarity of colorful pioneer landscapes to the verite-style black-and-white blur of attack reenactments that evoke their primal chaos. He carefully picks his spots, from his eerie visual choices to the acute comments of experts, to challenge our own certainties about morality. John Brown's Holy War is 80 powerful minutes of history, principle, ethics and introspection."

"Provocative rises to the occasion of its complex near-mythic title character."
Dallas Morning News