TIFF 2021: Attica dir. Stanley Nelson

Taking a look at the five day rebellion, and hostage taking in September of 1971 at Attica prison, Nelson’s documentary is a stark, unflinching look at the prison system, the industry of it, the culture and race clash that is inherent in it, and the larger world as a whole.

Filled with interviews from those involved on both sides, the doc takes us day by day through the events from when the inmates seized control of the prison to its truly horrific resolution. The interviews with the former prisoners are very insightful, as we see that the inmates weren’t arguing for their sentences to be commuted as the negotiations developed, but only wanted to be seen and treated as human, and enjoy some of the priviledges as such.

Through it all, there is a visual and overt threat and presence of virulent racism. Attica is a white town, a prison town, and trapped within the prison, a large population of predominantly black and brown inmates. And it leaves you to wonder how things are going to play out. Not just for those in the documentary, but for the systems in place today.

A powerful film, Attica doesn’t flinch from any aspect of the event, tackling each issue of the emotionally charged event with an objective eye. He combines the interviews with footage gathered from every aspect of the rebellion, we see how the media is used, how class and race plays a part, and forces the viewer to contemplate our prison system. Consequently, the film is completely engrossing, as Nelson lays out the narrative and balances the facts with the emotions of those who lived it.

There are no easier answers to be had, and the purpose of the documentary is not to offer one, but to catalogue and tell the facts of the event. It’s a revealing watch, an important film, and it forces a confrontation with a prison system that is broken, and inhumane.

Attica screens at TIFF digtially next Thursday.

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