Doug Liman directing Attica film
Doug Liman is currently researching a new film about the Attica state prison riots of 1971 where prisoners rioted, took control of the prison and faced off to guards for four days. During the riots and the subsequent fights for control thirty two inmates and ten hostages were killed.
It's a controversial event that saw an inquiry blaming the Governor and prison authorities for their handling of the event, especially as thirty nine of the deaths were during an assault by the state police on the inmate held prison.
Doug Liman has been speaking about his visit to the prison and the tour he and his team received, and he revealed:
”The tour was astounding...We followed the steps the prisoners took as they overwhelmed the guards; saw the radiators they ripped off the walls and the gates they smashed open with them. We left with so many stories, and names and contacts of people who were there to continue our research.”
So there's plenty of research going into the production, and Doug Liman is heavily involved as he works with screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher to develop the script. According to The Hollywood Reporter he'll be directing and producing, and has a personal connection with the film, his father served as chief counsel to the New York State Special Commission on Attica Prison and co-authored the commission's report that I mentioned earlier. I wonder if that connection will give him some interesting insights into the riot.
Reading more about the riot, which appeared to be about the prisoners demanding better living conditions. The riots began on September the 9th after the death of the prisoner George Jackson who had been shot by officers at San Quentin prison while he tried to escape the prison. He was armed.
Around one thousand prisoners rioted, just under half of the prison population, and took control of the entire prison, taking thirty three officers hostage.
During the four days of the siege, the police agreed to some twenty eight demands from the rioters, negotiating freely with the prisoners, although demands for complete amnesty from prosecution for the riot were never granted.
Early on the thirteenth of September, police dropped tear gas into the yard and, according to the Wikipedia article, New York State Police opened fire. Their reports suggest that this was non-stop for some two minutes, firing into the smoke. This, and a number of other factors, caused the high number of deaths in the retaking of the prison, nine hostages and twenty eight inmates.
After the prison was retaken there were reports of many reprisals from the guards on the rioted prisoners, leading to even worst resentment and anger.
Several films have already been around the events, a 1974 documentary entitled Attica and a television film in 1980 of the same name. Against The Wall from 1994, another television film, from director John Frankenheimer and starring Kyle MacLachlan and Samuel L. Jackson, and The Killing Yard in 2001, again a television film, starring Alan Alda, Morris Chestnut and Rose McGowan.
However the film has never really had a big screen excursion befitting of seriousness and impact of the events, and perhaps Liman's film will do just that. Although he's known more for his action films, there's a strong move towards more political work, and perhaps we'll see less action and more factual retelling. After all it seems as though they are doing plenty of research.