Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Stephen Vittoria's woefully misguided MUMIA: LONG DISTANCE REVOLUTIONARY

Imagine: A feel-good documentary about a guy on death row who gets his sentence lessened to life in prison! That's Mumia (the man, Mumia Abu-Jamal) and MUMIA: LONG DISTANCE REVOLUTIONARY, the new movie about him by filmmaker Stephen Vittoria. Unfortunately, there's a black hole in this project, the size of which could suck in one of the universes from yesterday's film, John Dies at the End. And the oddest thing is, Mr Vittoria has actually planned it that way. The below is from the press kit for the documentary: Unlike any other film about Mumia Abu-­‐Jamal, Mumia: Long Distance Revolutionary does not deal with Mumia’s case but rather his work as a journalist prior to and after incarceration on Pennsylvania’s death row. “I wasn’t interested in re-­hashing the same polarizing standoff between those who want Mumia to fry and those who want him free,” Vittoria states.

Well, Mr. Vittoria, shown at left, may not be interested in re-hashing Mumia's court case, but his audience most definitely is. (And who says it has to be a rehash? In the current West of Memphis, Amy Berg and her producers brought in new information that made a huge difference to the case itself.) At the very least, the filmmaker could have spent a few minutes on a precis of the case from both sides, even if he favored one of those sides. Instead we get, yes, absolutely nothing about it -- except that Amnesty International found it wanting, justice-wise. Great: Show us why.

The filmmaker's decision not to do this sinks what would otherwise have been a reasonably interesting, if repetitive movie full of glow-ing testimonials by everyone from Alice Walker and Angela Davis to Dick Gregory & Cornell West. Many of these are well-consider-ed and -spoken, but there are simply too many of them. After awhile, the movie, well-intentioned as it might be, begins to seems some sort of like a con job -- particularly given that the single thing we most want to get to the bottom of goes missing entirely.

Mr. Vittoria gives us some interesting history of the city of Philadelphia, in which "brotherly love" seems to not have been able to bridge the divide between races, and his history of Mumia's early life is worth seeing. Ditto his exploration of Mumia's career as a writer and journalist. There is plenty here that makes the movie worth a look, but the hole at its center is so staggeringly blatant and ill-conceived that it makes the documentary's execution a fumble for the record books. What a shame.

This story of a bright, articulate, talented man who may or may not have killed a police officer back in 1981 but is serving a life sentence for the deed deserves better. The one good thing that could come out of this is that the film might well send viewers back to the source material. Reading Mr. Abu-Jamal should be a healthy, salutary thing for many of us.

From the usually more discerning First Run Features and sporting a way-too-long 120-minute running time, Mumia opens this Friday in New York City at the Cinema Village. In the weeks to come it will play ten more cities (one of which is in Canada). For all currently scheduled playdates, click here.

The photos above are all credited within that photo, 
except for the one of Mr. Vittoria, 
which is by Shannon Vittoria.


Unknown said...

"woefully misguided" - I love that.
Stephen Vittoria

TrustMovies said...

Well, Stephen, I DID make some amends when the DVD came out. As FRF earlier informed me, it would make a difference. And it did. See later post here: