American film-maker, Stephen Vittoria’s latest film, Long Distance Revolutionary: A Journey with Mumia Abu-Jamal, proposes a new vision of Mumia Abu-Jamal, by analysing his remarkable career as journalist and writer from Death Row. I spoke with Mr. Vittoria about the film
Rodolf Etienne: Why have you chosen to treat Mumia’s case in your filmography?
Stephen Vittoria: The film does not deal with Mumia’s legal case but rather his life and times as a writer, journalist, and revolutionary. Other films, books, videos, and articles have dealt with Mumia’s innocence or guilt. I wasn’t interested in mining that material again. His prolific body of work, most of it produced under the harsh conditions of Death Row and solitary confinement, is a remarkable story of courage, commitment, and Mumia’s ability to transcend the Draconian conditions of the repressive apparatus of the American Empire. As a filmmaker and storyteller, his life of fighting the racist injustice of American society offers me the rare opportunity to give the audience a glimpse into the heart of struggle. Mumia has led a remarkable, albeit tragic life, since he started writing for the Black Panther newspaper at age 15. I wanted to focus on his immense talent, his unwavering commitment to peace and justice, as well as his struggle against the forces that want to silence him. Mumia is a true revolutionary in every sense of the word… he is a revolutionary because of the love he feels for those around him, those less fortunate, those in pain. Mumia speaks for them. He offers the voiceless a voice.
RE: What has been your criterias to choose the persons interviewed in the film?
SV: The research into Mumia’s life dictated who I needed and wanted to interview. Whether it was a fellow fiercely independent journalist like Tariq Ali or Amy Goodman, or a fellow Black Panther like Reggie Schell and Barbara Cox Easley, or philosophers like Cornel West – I wanted the chorus of voices to dig deep beneath the surface and offer the audience an amazing inside look at Mumia’s dramatic impact on social and political discourse both in the US and around the world.
RE: If you had to resume their thoughts, what would be the commentaries that you would keep?
SV: The film is two hours long and yet it was still very hard to cut certain segments out – segments that were brilliant from people like Alice Walker, Angela Davis, Rubin Hurricane Carter, and many others. But that is the job of the documentary filmmaker – make hard decisions with great footage and/or interview nites that just don’t make it into the film. I don’t regret any choice. The film is exactly the story I wanted to tell.
RE: What is the point of view of Mumia about the film?
SV: The subtitle of the film is “A Journey with Mumia Abu-Jamal” and I believe we’ve crafted a narrative that takes the audience on a journey through his life as well as the last 50 volatile years of the 20th century in America. Mumia’s point of view is that of a man who grew up in a very racist city and country and has fought that racism with every ounce of strength he has in his body. We view the barrage of hate and lies through his eyes and we witness Mumia’s ability to fight the hate and the lies with love and compassion.
RE: What do you expect after this film, specially for Mumia’s Case?
SV: The American press has offered a skewed narrative regarding Mumia’s life. It’s a narrative chock full of lies. Long Distance Revolutionary offers an alternative view of the last 50 years. In many respects, the film is the definitive work on Mumia’s life.
RE: Is the film a critic of the American society or a critic of a specific way of thinking as an American?
SV: The film is a broadside critique of the American Empire and its negative impact on both Americans and those in other countries who are forced to live under the repressive thumb of the Empire. This is Mumia’s view so it is also the point of view of the film.
RE: A question I’ve found very interesting from A3N : What was your impression of Abu-Jamal before starting the project? Did this impression change following the completion of the film?
SV: My impression of Mumia before making the film was only enhanced after the experience of making the film. Mumia lives up the hype – in fact, he surpasses the hype. He is the real deal – focused writer, brilliant public intellectual, loving father and husband, compassionate revolutionary, and a great friend to many people who care.
RE: How could we here, in Martinique, or in the Caribbean, help to develop Mumia’s struggle against the American justice lies against him?
SV: Organize and petition your government to lodge a formal protest against the State of Pennsylvania. Send a petition to the US Justice Department. When the film can be downloaded on iTunes (or wherever), buy the film, spread the love. Protest outside the American embassy. Make your voices heard. Free Mumia Now.
Long Distance Revolutionnary: A journey with Mumia Abu Jamal. Produced by Stephen Vittoria, Katyana Farzanrad and Noëlle Hanrahan. Written, directed, and edited by Stephen Vittoria. Featuring the song “Society” sung by Eddle Vedder.