‘Mumia: Long Distance Revolutionary,’ About Mumia Abu-Jamal
A First Run Features release of a Street Legal Cinema production in association with Prison Radio. Produced by Katyana Farzanrad, Noelle Hanrahan, Stephen Vittoria. Co-producer, Rikki Jarrett. Directed, written by Stephen Vittoria.
From New York Times By NEIL GENZLINGER
That isn’t the film’s intent, of course. Mr. Vittoria sets out to tell once again the story of Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was convicted of killing a Philadelphia police officer more than 30 years ago, and to highlight the considerable writing he has done in prison over the decades. From that standpoint the film will appeal to one side of thatpolarizing case — the side that views Mr. Abu-Jamal as a political prisoner and victim of a racist system — and enrage the other.
The samples of Mr. Abu-Jamal’s writings aren’t generous enough to establish whether his is a singular voice or just a prolific one, with Mr. Vittoria instead letting the film wander considerably, to Frederick Douglass and recent American bombings overseas and everything in between.
It was under Rizzo’s watch that Abu-Jamal started reporting on radio, his deep, persuasive voice and informed commentary winning devoted listeners; his analyses of current events, including the local war against John Africa’s Philadelphia-based Move enclave, and the federal government’s covert clash with the Black Panthers, attracted the animus of the police and the FBI. An oncamera Peter Coyote wryly fills in the narrative blanks in Abu-Jamal’s story — except as concerns the shooting of policeman Daniel Faulkner.
The docu doesn’t become fully focused until Abu-Jamal is incarcerated and gains international attention, his trial disputed by organizations such as Amnesty Intl. and Human Rights Watch, his continued imprisonment the subject of protests in France, Germany and beyond. The Republican Party’s attempt to condemn the French town of Saint-Denis for naming a street after Abu-Jamal furnishes some welcome comic relief.
In prison, a focused, likable Abu-Jamal gave interviews, many of which figure prominently in the docu (along with low-lit re-enactments of an actor portraying him writing in his cell), and penned a series of books on black history, the Black Panthers, jailhouse lawyers and the hell of prison — all of which are lauded here by educators, writers and black activists like Cornel West, Angela Davis, Dick Gregory and Walker, and quoted by Giancarlo Esposito onstage.
Vittoria closely follows the government’s desperate efforts to silence Abu-Jamal. His scheduled broadcast with Amy Goodman on NPR’s “All Things Considered” was quashed; the film shows a C-Span clip of an outraged Sen. Bob Dole condemning NPR on the floor of Congress. In order to shut Abu-Jamal up and prohibit him from being contacted by journalists or broadcasters, the state of Pennsylvania denied those rights to all death-row prisoners.
Vittoria triumphantly heralds the Abu-Jamal’s return to the political scene as a rallying cry for an alternate political discourse joyously shared by the film’s community of interviewees.