Philly Daily News On "In Prison My Whole Life"
By Ellen Gray
Philadelphia Daily News
Daily News TV Critic
IN PRISON MY WHOLE LIFE. 9 tonight, Sundance.
IF YOU Google the phrase "Police Officer Daniel Faulkner," you'll get more than 32,000 hits, all of which, presumably, identify him as a man who was shot to death in Center City Philadelphia on the night of Dec. 9, 1981.
Killed less than two weeks before his 26th birthday, he was destined to become famous as the victim of the crime for which cabdriver and freelance journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal was arrested, tried and sentenced to death.
Not famous enough, though, for the Sundance Channel, which in recent weeks has e-mailed frequent reminders of its airing tonight of the 2007 pro-Mumia documentary "In Prison My Whole Life," naming some of the luminaries interviewed in connection with the case - writer Alice Walker, linguist Noam Chomsky, rappers Mos Def and Snoop Dogg, among them - as well as executive producer Colin Firth, but omitting any mention of Faulkner.
Who, admittedly, is unavailable for interviews.
But then, how much of a role could Faulkner be expected to play in a documentary in which a guy who happens to have been born on the day Faulkner died sets out to investigate what he believes to be the unjust conviction of the man said to have killed him?
Because that's what the "Life" in "In Prison My Whole Life" refers to - that of London-born William Francome, who'll turn 27 tomorrow and who grew up being reminded by his American mother on every birthday of the continued incarceration of Mumia Abu-Jamal, whose conviction was upheld but death sentence thrown out in a 2001 court decision that both he and the state have continued to appeal.
At some point, Francome set out for his mother's homeland, hoping to get to the bottom of a messy case that's only gotten messier with the years.
Directed by Marc Evans, who co-wrote the script with Francome, "In Prison My Whole Life" attempts to link what its makers clearly believe to be a miscarriage of justice to everything and everyone from Frank Rizzo - who, um, wasn't actually mayor in 1981 - to Hurricane Katrina.
There are also ties, in Francome's mind, at least, to the atrocities at Abu Ghraib, Paul Robeson and the executions of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, whose younger son is interviewed.
In his exploration of the various ways Mumia might be innocent, Francome obtains an interview with the journalist's brother, William Cook, who was there that night but continues to be less than forthcoming about what he knows.
Francome himself can't seem to decide if the companion Cook refuses to name (but who's since died) shot Faulkner or if Mumia did the shooting, but in self-defense. He obtains a meeting with his subject that he's not allowed to record, but it's not clear if he even raises this seemingly central issue.
"In Prison" instead appears to rely heavily on an earlier documentary, "Mumia Abu-Jamal: A Case for Reasonable Doubt?"
Given this scattershot approach, as well as the way "In Prison" manages to gloss over less-sympathetic aspects of Mumia's case, including his own behavior at trial, I'm not inclined to argue with the Variety reviewer at the Rome Film Festival who called it "unfocused" and "oddly naive."
And yet, for those Philadelphians who've wondered for decades how this particular case came to be an international cause, the film represents an opportunity to see ourselves as others still may see us.
It's not a pretty picture, and certainly anyone encountering the footage of the 1977 and 1985 MOVE assaults for the first time might wonder about a city where such things could occur.
I still wonder myself.
I can't pretend to be less biased than Francome, having been alive and working at the Daily News on the night Faulkner was killed. I used to walk home after my overnight shift, skirting the crime scene, near 13th and Locust streets, on my route.
The sight of fresh blood on a sidewalk on a cold morning is not something you forget.
I can't say that allows me to know any more than Francome does about what actually happened in this city on the day he was born.
Legitimate questions remain, and it would be good to have answers.
What that memory does do, however, is make it impossible to forget that someone actually died.
And that he's been dead for every single day of Francome's nearly 27 years. *
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