MUMIA: LONG DISTANCE REVOLUTIONARY (Stephen Vittoria, 2013)
22 East 12th St. between University Pl. & Fifth Ave.
Opens Friday, February 1
In Stephen Vittoria’s overly reverential documentary Mumia: Long Distance Revolutionary, actors, activists, journalists, writers, and others celebrate the life and career of the former Wesley Cook, who changed his name to Mumia Abu-Jamal and helped found the Philadelphia wing of the Black Panther Party. The two-hour film begins with right-wing media mouths and the owner of Geno’s Steaks decrying the left’s embracing of Abu-Jamal, who was convicted in 1982 of killing Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner. Denied access to Abu-Jamal in prison, Vittoria uses staged re-creations, archival footage, radio interviews, and such actors as Giancarlo Esposito, Ruby Dee, and Peter Coyote reading from his many books in order to portray him as a dedicated and talented journalist who became a feared target of FBI head J. Edgar Hoover and controversial Philly mayor Frank Rizzo, ultimately being set up for a murder he did not commit. Vittoria does not delve into the details of the case, instead exploring the man himself, with stories from Abu-Jamal’s sister Lydia Barashango, comedian and activist Dick Gregory, wrongly incarcerated boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, philosopher Cornel West, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Alice Walker, fellow investigative journalist Juan Gonzalez, radical activist Angela Davis, and radio host Amy Goodman, who has broadcast numerous phone interviews with Abu-Jamal, whose 1982 death sentence was commuted to life in prison last year. Mumia: Long Distance Revolutionary is completely one-sided, showing anyone against the golden-throated Abu-Jamal to be crazy as the filmmakers glorify its subject. However, it does reveal the City of Brotherly Love to be a frightening hotbed of violence and racism, even if that is not necessarily news. “Philadelphia has a veneer of liberalism and this whole Quaker mystique,” explains Temple associate professor and journalist Linn Washington. “The reality is it has been this ruthlessly racist city — really from its inception.” Mumia: Long Distance Revolutionary works better when it examines the social history of the civil rights movement and the Black Panthers as covered by Abu-Jamal but falters when it treats his writings as if they were Shakespearean soliloquies. Vittoria will be present at Cinema Village to participate in several Q&As opening weekend, following the 6:30 and 9:00 screenings on Friday and 4:00 and 6:30 shows on Saturday and Sunday.