By Nelie Diverlus
The TIFF DOCS programme of the 46th annual Toronto International Film Festival debuted an intensely impactful film: Attica. This story centres around the 1971 prison riot at the maximum-security prison, Attica Correctional Facility. By speaking to various survivors of the revolt, along with the family members of the deceased, this film illustrates the targeted state violence that ensued during the late-20th century – the same cruelty that is perpetuated to this very day.
Attica effectively sets the scene for its viewers; those incarcerated are simply wishing to be seen for who they are beyond their sentencing. The living conditions within the prison walls were unsustainable, they were being mistreated, and were constantly silenced. The film dives deeper into the brutal and gruesome events that took place during the four days of the riots, and profound statements are heard from the (formerly incarcerated) survivors of the rebellion, along with some of the family members of the deceased.
Stanley Nelson has an extensive history of working on creative pieces of liberation, revolution and freedom, and this is presented magnificently within Attica. The energy of this film is palpable; all five senses are engaged while following along with this brutal story. Nelson flawlessly keeps the stakes at a high, leaving the viewer hoping for a resolution to the narrative. One can practically taste blood, smell the foul scents, hear the cries, feel the pain ensued, and ultimately, visualize the true atrocities that took place.
“Nelson flawlessly keeps the stakes at a high, leaving the viewer hoping for a resolution to the narrative.”
This film does an incredible job at varying the pace of the film in a precise, non-distracting manner. The composition of interview statements, juxtaposed with the impressive blend of found footage, reinforces the anxiety and worries felt while observing this story. The lighting of the interviews is notable – the survivors are seen and heard clearly; a thought unimaginable considering they have been silenced for a considerable amount of time. The aerial shots of the prison are framed marvellously, especially considering the contrast in framing a site of atrocity in a visually and aesthetically appealing manner.
While the soundtrack and soundscape are tremendous, it is also worth noting how the beginning started off slightly rocky with sound – the roaring sirens suppressed the voices of the subject, but thankfully this was minimal. The captivating soundscape makes up for this blunder, as this appealed to the senses and had the viewer feeling as if they were a first-hand witness of the monstrosities. The music also effectively transports us to the time era; in the viewer’s eyes, it was no longer 2021, but rather 50 years prior.
“The composition of interview statements, juxtaposed with the impressive blend of found footage, reinforces the anxiety and worries felt while observing this story.”
Additionally, pattern is a distinct element within this film; various statements are shared amongst the interviewees, helping support solidarity as a large theme of this feature. The soundscape is also explicit and very descriptive in its nature, and stunningly raises the tension mentioned in this story.
“The soundscape is also explicit and very descriptive in its nature, and stunningly raises the tension mentioned in this story.”
Watching this film releases the unknown radicalism in a great deal of us. The end statements remind us of the standards of living a sustainable life on this earth – standards that are constantly dismissed and forgotten. This film stunningly uncovers the truth of what occurs within prison walls and works to lend a voice to those that have been forced into silence. The feelings of despair and hopelessness felt while viewing this film are clearly intentional, but also genius – this film properly ignites a fire in all of us to continue working for and supporting the voiceless in liberation, revolution, and freedom.
“This film properly ignites a fire in all of us to continue working for and supporting the voiceless in liberation, revolution, and freedom.”
Editor’s Note: Attica screened at the Toronto International Film Festival ’21, as part of the TIFF DOCS programme. Limited press material supplied by TIFF.