Attica (2021)


Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB

2021. , , . Screenplay by Stanley Nelson. Cinematography by , , , , , . Produced by Traci Curry. Music by . Film Editing by .

In September of 1971, prisoners of New York’s Attica Prison decide they have suffered enough under inhumane living conditions and, when the opportunity presents itself, instigate a riot that results in half of the institution’s population living in the courtyard and holding guards as hostage. Media coverage is immediate and demands are quickly made known, the rioters won’t even consider handing the place back to the proper authorities unless something is done about rectifying their degrading quality of life, where no religious freedom is respected (Muslim prisoners are routinely served pork, for example), overpopulation is causing health problems and guards are routinely brutal with the prisoners.

Under these newly improvised circumstances, the men build latrines in the yard, set up a makeshift medical clinic and continue to argue for a resolution to the situation that will treat them fairly; there are no demands made for any changes to their sentences, but they do request that they not be punished with extended jail time for their participation in this very justified insurrection.

The event ultimately lasts five days and, as will surprise no one, the drama only intensifies as the days pass, until the death of a guard held hostage turns things around for the prisoners and authorities decide to take a hard line with ending things as quickly as possible. The result is a tragedy and a wholly unnecessary one, with brutal tactics taken under orders by Governor , himself advised by to be unmerciful, which end up harming not only the protesting prisoners but their hostages as well.

This sober recounting of the events of that very dark week pulls no punches and adds no unnecessary flourish, there are a surprising amount of survivors from that day still on hand fifty years later to provide powerful reminiscences of the experience, not just former prisoners of Attica but family members of the guards, lawyers and reporters who were on the scene.  Other than the talking heads there is a wealth of on-site footage thanks to the prisoners inviting reporters they believe are fair in their depiction of their cause to enter the situation directly and film them, hoping to get the message out to the world that they are not monsters but are human beings who are being treated like animals.

Academy Award Nomination: Best Documentary Feature

Toronto International Film Festival: 2021

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