New British Film About Mumia Abu-Jamal Showing in NYC and Oakland
--An interview with Livia Giuggioli Firth, co-producer of "In Prison My Whole Life"
For the first time since the film's US Premiere at the Sundance Film Festival last January, "In Prison My Whole Life" will be shown to a US audience. This new film about the internationally renowned death-row journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal will be shown this week at the Urbanworld Film Festival in New York City. The film has two different screenings, both at the AMC Loews 34th Street Theatre: Thursday, Sept 11, 1:45pm, at Theatre # 11 and on Saturday, Sept 13, 6:15pm, at Theatre # 9. In Prison is also being shown at the CR10 Conference in Oakland, CA, on September 26.
This new British documentary premiered at the prestigious London Film Festival and at Rome's International Film Festivals on October 25, 2007, at which point I interviewed William Francome, who is a central character in the film. The film's trailer begins with Francome, explaining that he's "been aware of Mumia for as long as I can remember. That’s because he was arrested on the night I was born, for the murder of a Philadelphia police officer. As my mom would often remind me, every birthday I had, has been another year that Mumia has spent in prison.... I am going on a journey to find out about the man who has been in prison my whole life."
With the acclaimed British actor Colin Firth as an executive producer, "In Prison My Whole Life" is directed by Marc Evans and produced by Livia Giuggioli Firth and Nick Goodwin Self. The film has interviews with such figures as Alice Walker, Angela Davis, Noam Chomsky, Amy Goodman, Ramona Africa, and musicians Mos Def, Snoop Dogg and Steve Earle. Amnesty International concluded in a previous report that Abu-Jamal's original 1982 trial was unfair, where he was convicted of fatally shooting Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner and sentenced to death. Amnesty International is supporting In Prison as part of its international campaign to abolish the death penalty. Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen says: "It's shocking that the US justice system has repeatedly failed to address the appalling violation of Mumia Abu-Jamal's fundamental fair trial rights."
In the 2007 interview, Francome disclosed that the film will prominently feature the startling Dec. 9, 1981 crime scene photos that were recently discovered by German author Michael Schiffmann, and are published in his new book.
The July 4, 2008 issue of Abu-Jamal-News revealed that In Prison also features an interview with Abu-Jamal's brother Billy Cook, who was at the scene on Dec. 9, 1981, after Officer Faulkner pulled his car over. The first time he has ever been interviewed on camera, Cook denies the accusation that he struck Faulkner in this face, from which he allegedly instigated the undisputed beating given to him by Faulkner, from which Cooks shows In Prison's interviewers the scars he still has on his head today. Cook says: “They arrested me for assaulting him, but I never laid a hand on him. I was only trying to protect myself. I never hit him. I never hit him.” Cook says that right before he was beaten bloody with the police flashlight, Faulkner “was kind of vulgar and nasty. And if I remember correctly he threw a slur in.... Nigger get back in the car.”
Regarding the assault charges against Cook, and his subsequent trial, Michael Schiffmann defends Cook's account in his recent essay, arguing that there was never any credible evidence that Cook ever struck Faulkner, and also that the prosecution’s two alleged eyewitnesses gave unbelievable accounts of how Abu-Jamal approached Faulkner and allegedly shot him in the back.
In this new interview with co-producer Livia Giuggioli Firth, she talks about when she first learned about Mumia Abu-Jamal, making the film, the new appeal to the US Supreme Court, and more. "I hope Mumia will have a new trial, because has been sitting in solitary confinement for 27 years, and it is a disgrace. We will never know the truth about Dec. 9, 1981 until then," says Firth.
Hans Bennett: When did you first hear of Mumia Abu-Jamal?
Livia Giuggioli Firth: A couple of years ago, at a dinner party at some friends’ house, I met William Francome and we started to chat (as you do at parties!). He told me he just finished college and wanted to make a documentary about Mumia. I’d never heard of him so he explained me who he was. When I got home and googled him... it was like opening Pandora's vase! That was enough to say: we need to dig into this!
HB: What was it like making the film? What role did you play as a producer?
LGF: Marc Evans, the director, is the one who did the film. I produced it - which means my role has been the ball-breaker! But it was very interesting to start the "Mumia quest" from scratch and with folks who had never heard of him. Apart from William, none of us (Marc the director, Colin, Nick and I who produced it, Mags the editor and so on for the whole crew) had any idea of the implications in Mumia's case.
If you detach everything from this "figure" constructed by both Mumia’s supporters and detractors, you just find a man who has been victim of politics more than anything else. This was what really fascinated us all when we approached the subject, and this is why Marc Evans wanted to contextualize Mumia's case within the African American political story. If you do not put Mumia in context - you can not understand this story.
Because the whole scenario around Dec. 9, 1981 was so complicated, distorted, and messed up, we decided to go to Amnesty International--an organization recognized worldwide for being completely objective and impartial--and asked for their guidance. They published a book in 2000 about Mumia's case and concluded that it is impossible to know whether this man is guilty or not because the trail was in violation of international law--a completely unfair trail.
HB: After researching this case, what are 3 facts that you consider most striking regarding the need for a new trial?
LGF: There are so many compelling things about this case that overcome any & all assaults from those who refuse to accept that the core issue here is an unfair trial. Having said this, some examples are:
First, there was no real forensic evidence presented in court. They never officially tested Mumia's hands for traces of gun powder, never officially found the bullet shot through Faulkner’s back, and more. With the discovery of Pedro Polakoff's crime scene photographs, you can clearly see how messed up the crime scene was that night!
Second, the testimonies supporting the prosecution scenario were false - all of them!
Third, the presiding judge, Albert Sabo was heard saying, on the FIRST DAY of the trail, "I am going to help them fry that nigger." Then, shocking us even more, Mumia's 1995-97 PCRA appeal was before this same judge. Are you joking?
HB: Mumia’s current appeal to the Supreme Court will be citing 3rd Circuit Judge Thomas Ambro’s dissenting opinion, which declared that the court had actually created new standards for a Batson claim, when it denied Mumia’s claim. Do you think this strong statement has received adequate coverage in the mainstream media?
LGF: Not really, but again, there are so many awful cases in America like Mumia's. So many innocent people are sentenced after unfair trails. Look at Troy Davis! That is another horrible case.
Hopefully the film will help people to think and realize that maybe there is more to the story. And hopefully it will help other cases too.
You can't dismiss Mumia as a “cop killer". Also, until there is a new trial, you will never know if he really is a "cold blooded monster" as they call him.
HB: Do you think the Supreme Court will now consider Mumia’s case?
LGF: This is a very difficult question. I do not know. It is not very likely, but you never know! If I did not have hope, I would never have produced this movie!
HB: Your film features a new interview with Billy Cook. What do you think is the significance of this interview?
LGF: Well, first of all Billy has never spoken since the night of the shooting. He was not called to testify and "disappeared" after that. So this is the first time he gets to talk about what happened that night. He will not tell the whole story until there is a new trial but he confirmed a few interesting things. You must see the movie!
HB: Anything else to add?
LGF: I hope Mumia will have a new trial, because has been sitting in solitary confinement for 27 years, and it is a disgrace. We will never know the truth about Dec. 9, 1981 until then.
All work by photojournalist Hans Bennett