Film Review: THE SKYJACKER’S TALE (Canada 2016) ***

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THE SKYJACKER_S TALEAfter five citizens of the Virgin Islands are convicted in the 1970s of a massacre at one of the island’s fancy country clubs, their ostensible leader stages a skyjacking and escapes to Cuba.

Director: Jamie Kastner
Writer: Jamie Kastner
Stars: Ishmael Muslim Ali, Isabella Carr, Bradley Gordon

Review by Gilbert Seah
These two years have seen a presence of excellent African American films including the Best Film Oscar winner, MOONLIGHT. The documentary THE SKYJACKER’S TALE is one of them, telling the little known story of Ishmael Muslim Ali (aka LaBeet). The film’s timing is perfect as Kastner captures Ali’s first interview since his hijacking.

Kastner cautiously plays both sides. Kastner makes it clear that Ali had been sentenced to 8 years lifetime imprisonment to be served consecutively – whatever that means. Ali was brutally tortured in jail too. So when he was transported on an American Airlines plane, it would only seem natural for him to try an escape. After all what has he to lose, but lots to gain?

The two reenactments of the massacre of the 8 people at the St. Crois’ Fountain Valley golf course (which Ali was convicted of) in he Virgin Islands and the plane hijacking make this documentary are exciting as any action fiction feature. And this is the real thing.

There are many reasons and much to enjoy in Kastner’s documentary. For one, it is short at 76 minutes and to the point. It is exciting and based on true events. The subject has his say in the interview, from start to the end of the film. Kastner shifts the audience’s point of view of the man. In the start, he is described by others as a terrorist, a truly evil person and a killer. By the end of the film, the audience sees a different person – one that is totally mistreated by society. Ali has a dream of escaping and it is difficult not to side with someone who lives up to his dream.

Kastner has also assembled an impressive list of interviewees to aid the film’s credibility. Among them are the police officials (who admit to torturing Ali), the St Crois prison guards, the prosecutor and defendant lawyers. For the hijacking, Kastner also got the pilot, flight attendant and a passenger to talk on camera.

The film is not without humour. The film ends on a funny note where Ali reveals how he smuggled the gun from prison on to the plane through the metal detectors.

As stated by one of the talking heads in the film, the issue at hand is not whether Ali was guilty of the crime. The issue was the wrong-doing done by the justice system and the prison authorities and guards – especially the torture of hanging the men from the trees, using electric cattle prods and water torture.

By the end of the film, the audience is totally on the side of Ali, hoping he is successful in his escape to Cuba. This he was. When imprisoned in Cuba for the hijacking, he claims on interview that he was glad to be imprisoned in Cuba, away from the f***ing Americans.

After the opening of this disturbing document of injustice done on the black people, the coming week will see the equally arousing bio-pic of the true story of rap singer Tupac (ALL EYEZ ON ME) who was shot dead at the age of 25. He too was imprisoned and tortured in prison.


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