Attica (2021)

Attica (2021)

A detailed and hyper-focused oral history that knows exactly where it stands

7.1

Movie

United States of America
English
Documentary
2021
STANLEY NELSON, TRACI A. CURRY
Clarence Jones, Elizabeth Gaynes, Herman Schwartz
117 min

TLDR

Oh, America, land of the free(?).

What it's about

A retelling of the 1971 Attica Prison riot and ensuing massacre, done through archival footage and interviews.

The take

Though it only really serves as a recounting of events from 1971 rather than a much thorough analysis, Attica is a great example of that type of documentary that can be incredibly difficult to pull off well: that is, the archival documentary mainly told with already existing material. Thanks to plenty of detail (and the good instinct to know how to deploy these details), this documentary avoids feeling like a mere history lesson and begins to feel almost as dramatic as a radio play. And the film knows better than to be detached from its subject; it makes sure to characterize the inmates of Attica as an intelligent, passionate group that set aside their differences to stand up for their rights—and were summarily punished for it.

What stands out

It says a lot about both the filmmaking and the actual events described by the film that Attica's climactic massacre still manages to be infuriating even if one knows what's coming. And though the film doesn't necessarily try to make a statement through its own form, it's hard not to be compelled to think of these events in a different way while "watching" it unfold through black-and-white photographs. A sort of distance is created between the viewer and these images, but it's one that makes the footage that much more chilling, and reminds us of how dehumanizing the prison-industrial complex still is today.

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