EXCLUSIVE: American Anarchist is a documentary about William Powell who, at age 19, wrote one of the most infamous books ever published: The Anarchist Cookbook. From Oscar nominated filmmaker Charlie Siskel (Finding Vivan Maier, Tosh.0), the doc will world premiere out of competition at the Venice Film Festival which launches on August 31. Check out the trailer above in which Powell says he “grossly underestimated” the controversy his writing would provoke.

The film has flown somewhat under the radar but the subject is, sadly, very timely. Part manifesto and part bomb-making manual, Powell’s book went on to sell over 2M copies and has been associated with decades of violent anti-government attacks, abortion clinic bombings, school shootings and homegrown domestic terrorism. At the time of the book’s publication, an FBI memo described it as “one of the crudest, low-brow, paranoiac writing efforts ever attempted.” In 2013, Powell wrote in The Guardian that he found himself “arguing for it to be quickly and quietly taken out of print.”

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 U.S. and has led an itinerant life ever since. The film will examine the role The Anarchist Cookbook has played in the life of its author, who wrote it in the midst of the counterculture upheaval of the late 1960s early 70s.

The film is billed as “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.”

Siskel says his hope is that “Bill’s story with all its artful dodges, might help us better understand one another and ourselves.” Exec producers are Matthew Perniciaro
 Michael Sherman
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American Anarchist screens Friday September 2 on the Lido; UTA is repping.