When one thinks of American torture tactics, images of men subjected to waterboarding in some faraway Middle Eastern country are more likely to spring to mind than that of an inmate quietly biding time in a prison down south. But the plight of Herman Wallace, Albert Woodfox and Robert King has been on Amnesty International’s radar for decades. Ever since a prison guard was murdered in 1972, three Black Panthers who’d been vocal about conditions at a Louisiana penitentiary were blamed, and the “Angola 3” were placed in solitary confinement – where Wallace and Woodfox remain to this day, 40 years on.
Enter Jackie Sumell, a white New York artist whose correspondence with Wallace led to an installation entitled “The House That Herman Built,” which toured galleries internationally, and in turn led to the newfound friends’ decision to make the inmate’s dream house a reality. Which is where Canadian filmmaker Angad Singh Bhalla comes in. As he trails Jackie on her quest for land on which to build what will serve as a youth community center – Herman’s omniscient voice heard only in phone calls from beyond prison walls, directing the mission like an unseen ghost – a tale emerges of a quest to create a lasting legacy freer than a cell and sturdier than a house.
I spoke with the film’s director, whose resume includes producing work for Human Rights Watch and The Center for Constitutional Rights as well as for labor unions, about his most unusual, multi-layered debut.
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