"Sheriff Works to Block Civic Center Filming"
by Con Garretson, Marin Independent Journal, 23 October 2003

Plans to film part of a movie on the life of prison revolutionary George Jackson at the Marin Civic Center remained in limbo this week as Marin County Sheriff Bob Doyle planned a formal letter of protest in an effort to block the filming.

Marin Superior Court judges denied the filmmakers' request to film on the court floor of the Civic Center's Hall of Justice, where a courtroom kidnapping attempt left a judge and three others dead 33 years ago.

Producers of the movie, called "Black August," have received tentative approval by the county to film scenes in other parts of the Civic Center, including a shootout under an exterior archway in which Judge Harold Haley, Jackson's brother and two San Quentin inmates were killed.

Members of the law enforcement community have reacted with outrage over the plans to film at the Civic Center, and Doyle has said it would be a "desecration" of the building.

Doyle, who was a bailiff on the court floor when the kidnapping attempt occurred on Aug. 7, 1970, said he told County Administrator Mark Riesenfeld on Monday that the filming should not be allowed for security reasons and out of sensitivity to those whose lives were affected by the events of that day.

Doyle said he will draft a letter of opposition to Riesenfeld, who said such a move would be the formal request necessary for him to consider blocking the filming.

Riesenfeld last week said he had never been in a position to rescind a filming permit, which he said is granted based on compliance with administrative conditions and not a review of the subject matter.

However, the county has not yet formally granted a permit for filming that was originally scheduled to have taken place this past weekend.

Lisa DeCarlo, a county analyst who has been overseeing the permit process, said the movie producers have met all but one condition: acquiring a film permit from the city of San Rafael.

If the filmmakers receive the city permit, the county permit would be granted as routine unless Riesenfeld says it should not be, DeCarlo said.

Gina McNamara, revenue supervisor in San Rafael's finance department, said the filmmakers have applied for the city permit and that it is being processed. Like the county, she said the city permit process does not call for a review of a film project's content.

The city permit requires a $300-per-day filming fee and a $2 million insurance policy in which the city is covered, McNamara said.

The producers of "Black August" said the movie is a "historical drama" intended to reflect the spirit of the times when unrest over perceived social injustices was prevalent.

The Civic Center is part of that history and, coupled with the unique architecture designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, make for a perfect backdrop for the independent project, they said.

Doyle and others take issue with Jackson being portrayed in a favorable light and the Civic Center incident being characterized as a "liberation attempt" in a synopsis of the movie.

"Black August" producer Andy Hill said he does not understand the opposition to the filming and called unfair Doyle's characterization of those involved in the attempted kidnapping as "criminal terrorists" in an Independent Journal story last week.

"I said what I said and I stand by it," the sheriff said yesterday.

George Jackson, author of "Soledad Brother," was not in Marin Superior Court on the day his 17-year-old brother, Jonathan, helped carry out the kidnapping of Haley, Thomas and three jurors as part of a plan to swap the hostages for his older brother and two other prison inmates.

Jonathan Jackson brought several guns into what is now known as Courtroom F during the trial of a San Quentin inmate charged with stabbing a correctional officer and passed them off to the defendant and two convict witnesses.

The kidnappers and their hostages made their way to a rented van, but a barrage of gunfire ensued in which Haley, Jackson and two of the inmates were killed.

Prosecutor Gary Thomas, who subsequently served as a judge in Marin, was left in a wheelchair from his gunshot injuries.

San Quentin State Prison officials initially denied the filmmakers' request to film at the Marin facility as being unworkable, but they are considering subsequent filming plans for the site where Jackson, an inmate, was shot dead during an escape attempt on Aug. 21, 1971.

The scene where Jackson dies at age 29 already has been filmed at a state prison in Carson City, Nev., and other scenes portraying a Black Panther safehouse and other locales are being filmed this week in Oakland.

The Oakland-based production is being partially financed by JRider Entertainment, which is owned by former NBA player Isaiah "JR" Rider. Jackson is portrayed in the movie by actor Gary Dourdan, who plays Warrick Brown on the CBS drama "CSI."

The Civic Center has appeared in the 1997 science fiction movie "Gattaca," starring Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman, and George Lucas' first movie, "THX 1138."

©2003 Marin Independent Journal

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