courtesy Street Legal Cinema

Film review: Long Distance Revolutionary

The story of a freedom fighter who continues to fight behind bars

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Imagine languishing in a Pennsylvania prison cell on death row for 31 years. Now imagine doing that while being innocent. For those who do not accept their fate at the hands of a terminally flawed justice system, their battle would unquestionably be for personal freedom, doing whatever they could to prove their innocence. Mumia Abu Jamal chose neither acceptance nor the pursuit of individual vindication. Instead, he has dedicated the last three decades to working as a radical journalist, freedom fighter and peace activist for all oppressed people — and he does this from behind bars.

Long Distance Revolutionary is a documentary by Stephen Vittoria about the life and works of this indomitable figure, who has gained the sympathies and respect of people such as Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman, novelist Alice Walker, historian Tariq Ali and intellectual Noam Chomsky. 

The documentary paints a picture of Jamal’s life beginning with his childhood in a Philadelphia public housing complex, and how he was radicalized by an encounter with a police officer who kicked him in the face at a peaceful protest against segregation when he was only 14. 

In an article for The Nation titled “B-Block Days and Nightmares,” Jamal wrote: “I hear the unmistakable sounds of meat being beaten by blackjacks, of bootfalls, yells, curses; and it merges into the mind’s movie-making machine, evoking distant memories of some of the Philadelphia Police Department’s greatest hits — on me.”

This incident catapulted him into the ranks of the Black Panthers, a black power organization, where he perfected his skills as a writer and established a revolutionary ideology that contested the injustices of one of the most racist cities in the United States at the time. 

The history of Philadelphia is thoroughly explored in this film, providing a context for the events that would inevitably find Jamal incarcerated. In 1979, for the first time in American history, the federal government filed a lawsuit against Philadelphia Police Commissioner Frank Rizzo for aiding and abetting police brutality. 

Jamal was one of the few journalists courageous enough to report critically on the Police Department’s inhumane acts despite obvious recriminations. Because he was well known in the community and had proven to be a reliable voice in journalism, Jamal became public enemy number one — he eventually suffered the consequences of what many believe was an unfair trial that was riddled with controversy. 

After he was convicted of murder of a police officer in 1982, Jamal’s real work began. Long 
Distance Revolution does not focus on the details of the trial or the body of evidence against his conviction, but instead combines interviews with high-profile individuals with everyday people reciting the poetry of his words to present the image of a man who is sensitive, intelligent and humanitarian. It also features the smooth voice of conviction and fortitude uttered by Jamal himself.

In the time he has spent in prison, Jamal has published seven books without the use of computers or the Internet. He is also a regular commentator on an online broadcast called Prison Radio. He writes and speaks on topics such as the failing of the American education system, the glutting of black men in the prison industrial complex and state surveillance of all Americans in addition to issues affecting people all over the world.

It is obvious that Mumia Abu Jamal maintains an international body of support. A street has been named after him in France, and Amnesty International classifies him as a Prisoner of Conscience. 

Long Distance Revolutionary provides a thorough background of someone who has dedicated his life to the emancipation of every man and woman who has felt the shackles of injustice, oppression and fear. The story of Mumia Abu Jamal inspires heroism and the pursuit of truth and justice for all. 

The film will be screened in the Gallery Hall of the Taylor Family Digital Library on Feb. 27 as a part of NUTV’s Movies That Matter series. This will be the Canadian premiere of the film, and it will be followed by a 30 minute discussion.