CFS: ‘The Return of Secaucus Seven’ reflects on past

Megan Hansler

Seven friends, one night in jail and countless memories — this is the premise of “The Return of the Secaucus Seven,” the debut film of prominent indie filmmaker John Sayles.

 Sayles is known for his homegrown approach to filmmaking, his liberal political slant and his skillful character development. 

Released in 1980, “The Return of the Secaucus Seven” is no exception. 

In this film, Sayles tells the story of seven college friends who are reunited 10 years after graduation to reminisce about their days as student activists. 

They call themselves “The Secaucus Seven” as they remember the night they spent in a Secaucus, N.J. jail on their way to a protest in Washington D.C. 

“The Return of the Secaucus Seven” was written, directed, edited and primarily funded by Sayles himself. 

Sayles spent only 25 days filming, used mostly unknown actors and filmed a majority of the footage in a New Hampshire lake house, so he could afford to finance the project with a mere $40,000. 

Despite its low-budget and humble beginnings, “The Return of the Secaucus Seven” is said to be one of the first contemporary independent American features as it addresses the social and political struggles of a generation. Sayles’ story also began a trend of reunion films, including “The Big Chill” by Lawrence Kasdan. 

Sayles’ multidimensional characters bring both comedic and melancholic moments to the film. The actors who bring these characters to life are friends of Sayles, and he also appears in the film. As a result, there is a very authentic feel to the characters’ relationships with one another. 

 “In all my films, I’ve explored questions of identity and community. In ‘Secaucus Seven,’ the community are these people who are glad to be around others they don’t have to explain their jokes to,” Sayles says, regarding his use of character development.

As these characters look back on their college days together, they reinforce the common bond that they formed so many years ago during that night in a Secaucus jail. 

Sayles calls particular attention to the uniqueness of the friends’ bond by offering the perspective of an outsider who attends the reunion with his significant other. 

Through these complex character interactions, Sayles presents the issues faced by those who are 10 years out of college and leading mundane lives despite their passion for political change less than a decade before. 

 “The Return of the Secaucus Seven” will be shown four times in the Connelly Center Cinema: Saturday, March 27 at 7 p.m.; Sunday, March 28 at 3:30 and 7 p.m.; and Monday, March 29 at 7 p.m. 

Admission is free for students with ID from any academic institution and $5 for all others. CFS director John O’Leary will be at the Monday evening screening to introduce the film and lead a discussion afterward.