Tony Cross watched Evidence of the Evidence...
This is a short – 21 minutes – film at the centre of which is the Attica Prison Uprising – or Riot – that took place between September 9th and 13th 1971. The prisoners wanted changes to the system and black prisoners in particular were angry about the way they were treated. The uprising was eventually put down savagely by the authorities & 43 people were killed, including 10 hostages. Most of those hostages were killed by the police shooting. There was stories of torture, sexual assault and punishment beatings by the authorities once the uprising was over. It was an ugly mess.
Evidence of the Evidence uses footage shot by a New York State Trooper to tell the story, to question how the camera can frame events and create stories. It’s unashamedly political. The Coda in particular, featuring the voice and words of Richard Pryor and one of the prisoners himself, leaves you in no doubt where they stand. And frankly Prison systems are how we should judge societies. How do we deal with those who have committed crimes? Is it just about punishment or should we try to rehabilitate all but the most impossible to reach?
Questions about the racist nature of the American prison system continue to be asked now. And I recommend watching Ava DuVernay’s 13th for a comprehensive ripping apart of the nature of American Justice. Fundamentally, the American prison system has replaced slavery as a way of controlling young black men. But this isn’t a review of 13th.
The film taken by the State Trooper was used to ‘identify’ the ring-leaders of the riot. All of whom – by sheer coincidence I’m sure – were to die when the prison was retaken. It asks questions of how the films were used.
At 21 minutes it is probably the perfect length for what it is trying to do. Attica became a key event for the civil rights movement after it was over as the real picture of the violent over-reaction came out. It crops up in films, television and music. Evidence of the Evidence tells part of that story and I’m sure someone, somewhere is working on telling more of it.
Some things don’t feel quite finished and this is one of them. I’m not sure, if truth be told, I’ve done this justice. There’s something about watching the film and listening to the State Trooper’s matter of fact narration that makes you feel like something isn’t quite right. It’s chaotic. It’s ugly. It’s hard to follow what’s happening and to who.
Worth a watch.
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Image - Sheffield Doc/Fest