"Black August," a movie project involving the courthouse shootout in which Marin Judge Harold Haley was killed 33 years ago, yesterday kicked off filming at the site where the shootout occurred Marin Civic Center.
The filming at the seat of county government, which was scheduled to continue today, was approved at the last minute after county officials reversed an earlier decision barring the movie's producers from using weapons to depict the shootout.
"The audience will walk away with an insight into the period of the times of the 1970s and learn what a time of change and friction it was," said Andy Hill, the firm's producer, about the 15-minute scene.
Critics, however, complained that using the original building to re-enact the Aug. 7, 1970, shooting in which Jonathan Jackson, the 17-year-old brother of San Quentin State Prison inmate George Jackson, arranged a courtroom takeover and hostage-taking to barter for his brother's release, was inappropriate.
Jackson passed guns to a prison inmate who was on trial and to two inmate witnesses, which led to the gun battle that killed Haley. Jonathan Jackson and two inmates were killed under the Civic Center's center archway.
Leading efforts to block the filming was Sheriff Robert Doyle, who was a bailiff that day in a nearby courtroom.
He expressed disappointment at the county's 11th-hour decision, saying County Administrator Mark Riesenfeld was in the center of a "flip-flop."
But the movie crew defended the project, saying they believe the film is noteworthy for its potential to provoke thought among its viewers.
"Doyle had every right to feel how he did, but this country is built on freedom of speech," Hill said.
Yesterday's filming, featuring actor Gary Dourdan, who plays Warrick Brown on the CBS drama "CSI," as Jackson, used at least four big rigs for wardrobe, changing rooms and equipment as well as 1970s-era police cars and a getaway van for the armed convicts. Multiple practice runs allowed actors to rehearse their lines, and camera crews to prepare for the final take.
On hand to keep things running smoothly were two maintenance men and several San Rafael police officers, who received overtime pay from the film company.
"Black August" producer Tcinque J. Sampson said the producers were "not trying to justify Jackson's actions," but rather present a critical review of history to shed light on present-day race relations.
"It is related to race relations," Sampson said. "We have not arrived at any illusion that there is equality in society not in employment or race relations."
Certain aspects of the plot, Sampson said, will be retold, and others will shed new light on what he called "suspicious" evidence of the circumstances of the event. Specifically, Sampson said his investigation of the shootout revealed that San Quentin guards had prior knowledge of Jackson's takeover plans.
George Jackson, a revolutionary who wrote "Soledad Brother," was shot and killed Aug. 21, 1971, as he allegedly tried to escape from San Quentin.
©2003 Marin Independent Journal