My husband Colin and I have ongoing discussions on who we would support for this presidential campaign. Obama, Clinton, Edwards -- I tend to go for Obama but yesterday, while having lunch with friends here in Sundance, an African American studio executive said that should Obama be elected, he fears there would be several attempts to assassinate him simply because he is black. This sent an icy shock through me.
Walking through the crisp white snow at the Sundance Film Festival to a screening of our documentary In Prison My Whole Life, I started to wonder whether the optimism that we had felt in making the film had been misplaced. The movie centers around the case of Mumia Abu Jamal, a vociferous and radical black journalist who, after 25 years in prison, has become America's most famous Death Row inmate. Despite the injustices surrounding Mumia's case and some of the dark historical events that the film portrays, it is doggedly optimistic in approach. Mumia's continued articulate commentary as a radio journalist, broadcasting from his cell by means of typewriter and telephone, had inspired us. His voice is heroic and connects to a tradition of dissenting black voices which have always found a place in America. With our films' Sundance screening coinciding with Martin Luther King Jr. Day, this surviving continuity seemed even more poignantly alive.
Producing In Prison my Whole life is one of the best things that has ever happened to me. People have asked me many times what shocked me most while making the film and my answer is always the same: how much I fell in love with America all over again. There is a general perception in Europe that "America" is "Bush". So when we left for the States to film and found ourselves listening to people like Noam Chomsky, Alice Walker, Angela Davis, Russell Simmons, Howard Zinn, Snoop Dogg, Mos Def (I could go on for hours, we met the most amazing people!) it reminded me what a wonderful country America is and what a powerful counter culture still exists.
This is the country which fought many of the biggest civil rights battles, and our film endeavors to ask what is the nature of dissent in America today.
I recently read an interview with the fantastic writer David Grossman who said, "One of the great questions that people living in this age must relentlessly ask themselves is: in what state, at which moment, do I become part of the faceless crowd, "the masses"?"
If you think about it -- this question IS the most fundamental one and I guess this is why I/we found ourselves doing this movie. Among the questions "In Prison My Whole Life" raises are: Is racism in America still endemic? What did we learn from Katrina? What is the state of the American judicial system? Was it unbiased in Philadelphia in 1982 when Mumia was on trial? Was it unbiased in the election of 2000? We must never stop asking questions. Documentary filmmakers have the opportunity to engage in the great debate, to resurrect -- if one can use that word - the urge to dissent, to ask questions again, to fight for change and to fight the blindness and ignorance of racism and injustice that still exists not only in this country but all over the world.