In February 2013, director Stephen Vittoria premiered his film Long Distance Revolutionary: A Journey with Mumia Abu-Jamal in New York City. The documentary is the latest in a series of films about famed activist, scholar and political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal. Unlike other films about Abu-Jamal, like 1998’s Mumia Abu-Jamal: A Case for Reasonable Doubt and 2008’s In Prison My Whole Life, which spend ample time recounting the facts of his controversial murder case, Vittoria’s film centers around Abu-Jamal’s life in prison and the community organizations working to secure his release. Vittoria’s is unabashedly a film by an activist for activists. As he boastfully declared at the premier, he didn’t make the film to win friends. Instead, the documentary aims to contribute to a grassroots movement for change.
In this way, the tenor of Vittoria’s film offers an expanded understanding of the role of progressive filmmaking in the 21st century. Not satisfied with simple narration or explanation, Long Distance Revolutionary seeks to incite, to compel the audience to action using the stories of those who have spent their lives fighting on behalf of Mumia Abu-Jamal and other political prisoners. Notable guest appearances in the film include: professor and activist Cornel West, journalist Amy Goodman, The New Jim Crow author Michelle Alexander and prison abolitionist Angela Davis. Davis’s appearance in the film is striking, not only because of the cogent analysis she offers regarding the prison system, but also because of the similarities her case shares with Abu-Jamal’s.
In 1970, Angela Davis was accused of kidnapping and first-degree murder in connection to a shooting that took place at a California courthouse. From the outset, it was clear the prosecution of Davis was politically motivated and her allegiances with radical organizations were taken as proof of her guilt. Similarly, in 1981, Mumia Abu-Jamal was arrested on first-degree murder charges in connection with the death of police officer Daniel Faulkner in Philadelphia. Like Davis, Abu-Jamal had been active with radical organizations like the Black Panther Party and had voiced sympathies for Black separatist group MOVE. Abu-Jamal was convicted and sentenced to death following a highly contested trial. Though Abu-Jamal’s sentence has recently been reduced to life in prison without parole, unlike Davis, his case has not yet succeeded in producing a movement forceful enough to overturn the conviction.
That’s what Vittoria’s film hopes to change. After more than 30 years of tireless work by community activists like Pam Africa and organizations like the Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Coalition NYC and International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal, Long Distance Revolutionary wants to make those contributions known and breathe new life into the movement. In an age where “likes,” tweets and signal boosts can reach thousands in a matter a seconds, Vittoria’s film campaign for Mumia aims to go viral. Harnessing the power of new media platforms and innovative distribution venues, the film is blazing a new way forward in the fight to free ‘em all.
by Brittany Duck, Graduate Student at The New School