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ROMEFILMFEST Extra

Evans’ compelling visit to Prison

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In Prison My Whole Life [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
, the low-budget documentary by UK director Marc Evans’ (Snow Cake [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
), which screened in the Extra sidebar of the RomeFilmFest, reexamines the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal, the Black Panther activist, journalist and broadcaster who was convicted of the murder of Philadelphia policeman Daniel Faulkner in 1982, and has been in prison ever since.

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Unlike a 1996 documentary on the same subject, Prison has an added hook: it is narrated by William Francome, a 25-year-old British sociology graduate who was born on 9 December 1981 – the day the shooting took place – and who was first made aware of the campaign to free Mumia by his mother, a protest-generation American in London.

Says Evans: “In a certain sense, this film does not belong to me, but to Will, who we follow across America as he explores the case of [a man] who has become a symbol for the movement against the death penalty.” Although Mumia is currently off Death Row, the case is in judicial limbo while both sides launch appeals.

The film also features the testimony of a court stenographer who heard the original trial judge comment “I’m gonna to help them fry the nigger” and footage from a Philadelphia courtroom training tape from the 1970s in which a police instructor tells his charges that “You don’t want smart people [on the jury] – they take those words ‘reasonable doubt’ and they actually start thinking about them”.

Although Francome comes across as a nice guy, the documentary is at its most compelling when pacing revelations to create dramatic suspense, interviewing key players and pundits (who include novelist Alice Walker, rappers Snoop Dogg and Mos Def, and philosopher-activist Noam Chomsky), and building a burden of proof.

Produced by Livia Giuggioli and executive produced by her husband, the British actor Colin Firth, for Nana Films, Italian co-producer Fandango will release the film theatrically in Italy. The UK’s Swipe Films are handling world sales.

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