This documentary looks at a 1973 hostage taking at a sporting goods store in Bushwick in Brooklyn, and how it helped create the idea of permanent hostage negotiation units.
The film just plunges us into the situation, much like the other documentary we just watched at TIFF. (Both reference Attica somehow.) And, much like Attica it takes its time to give us some context of what happened. Perhaps what the film most gets right is how confusing a situation like this is – nobody seems to understand why it was happening. The men robbing the store wanted guns to protect themselves from the Nation of Islam because the police wouldn’t, the police thought they were from the Black Liberation Army. Even all these years later, it seems as not everyone is clear why it happened. (One of the appealing things about the film is how everyone misremembers what happened.)
Some of the interviewees are really great. Shuaib Raheem is particularly compelling and worth watching. He is the star. It’s also good to hear what the police think. (One of the problems with Attica was that we didn’t get that perspective.) As you might imagine, a number of the cops don’t come off well. And this despite what actually happened. (I.e. this was a win for the police.)
Though it’s 93 minutes, the film actually might be slightly too long. It does feel like the pacing is a little off and there is more reliance on archival footage than necessary. It’s also a little manic or schizophrenic in its construction – there is no rhyme or reason to some of the section headings and it does feel like the film could use a surer hand. I also felt like I had some unanswered questions at the end, most notably why one of the perpetrators was still in jail when this film was made while the other three had been released. (By at least one account, he was the least dangerous of them.)
But it’s mostly well done. And whether or not this particular incident really did cause the creation of permanent hostage negotiation units, it feels like there are a lot of lessons to learn from it, not all of which have been learned.