ATTICA - The Documentary Film




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Adapted from the forthcoming book, Intelligence Work: The Politics of American Documentary by Jonathan Kahana.

Copyright © 2007 Columbia University Press. Used by arrangement with Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

Cinda Firestone’s 1973 documentary Attica evokes the mythic dimensions of the uprising while documenting it in ways that counteracted the state’s tactics of communication and publicity. Early on, Attica establishes the themes of the duplicity of the state officials and the complicity of the journalistic apparatus. Cinda Firestone’s skillful editing is instrumental in binding these themes to the technologies of mediation, as when she juxtaposes a televised remark by Russell Oswald, the state commissioner of corrections, on the importance of trust in the negotiations with the prisoners with the comment from a prisoner that they knew they could not trust Oswald when they saw him on their televisions misrepresenting their demands to the press assembled outside the prison. The observational mode of filming used for the scenes inside the yard, most of which were shot on 16mm film by Roland Barnes and Jay Lamarche, cameramen from WGR-TV in Buffalo who stayed with the prisoners, is similarly juxtaposed to the televisual mode of broadcasting.

An axiomatic instance of this opposition comes at one of the most dramatic moments in the film, the moment when negotiations break down and the attack begins. In establishing a rough chronology of events, the film has been building to the confrontation between the prisoners and the forces massing outside the walls of the prison. Crosscutting between footage taken on both sides of the prison walls contrasts the prisoners, some of whom wear a flimsy armor of football helmets and handkerchiefs, with the lines of police in riot gear carrying heavy artillery. Anticipating the sacrificial nature of the attack, the film then inscribes one of the uprising’s emblematic utterances, Flip Crowley’s heroic proclamation that “if we cannot live like people, we will at least try to die like men.” We then see footage of helicopters rising over the wall and the teams of police entering the prison. At this point, the film abruptly suspends the moment of confrontation and tempers the emotional pitch it is reaching by shifting from the live recordings of the attack to the retrospective account offered by public officials of the decision to invade the yard.

In excerpts from television appearances, Oswald and Rockefeller are heard speaking of the attack in the past tense. Oswald asserts that to have delayed the attack any longer would have been to risk “the destruction of our free society.” Rockefeller seems simultaneously to take and displace responsibility for the massacre, apparently in response to a question about where the order for the attack came from: “At that point the decision was made, there was no alternative but to go in. I supported that decision, and as chief executive officer I am responsible for that decision.” Combined with Firestone’s shrewd placement of the clip, Rockefeller’s use of the passive voice creates a disorienting effect, one with ethical and public dimensions. At the moment in the historical narrative when the confrontation between the opposing forces is coming to a head, we are suddenly drawn away from the event itself and made to view it retrospectively, as an event that has already happened and, moreover, for which someone in power must take responsibility. In the narrative logic of the sequence, the expected but missing piece in the cinematic account of the attack appears to cause of a crisis of agency, as if the film is asking: Who will take responsibility for the tragic events that we all know will soon take place?


Back to Attica
Reeler Interview: Firestone discusses landmark documentary in advance of rare NYC encore
By S.T. VanAirsdale

The Reeler
November 8, 2007

The Reeler masthead

It only took 33 years and what director Cinda Firestone quantifies as "a zillion bootlegs," but the landmark documentary Attica is on the verge of a major revival. A detailed, unflinching chronicle of the 1971 riots at the titular prison -- where 31 inmates and nine hostages died in one of the bloodiest domestic uprisings in U.S. history -- and the inquiry that followed, Attica found instant acclaim before slipping into an obscurity of distribution hell. Its legend grew, however, in underground circulation and its influence on the policies of correctional systems nationwide, not to mention its maker's self-imposed withdrawal from the film scene.

Through little more than blind luck, the New York Public Library several years ago tracked Firestone down at her Puerto Rico home to initiate a restoration of Attica. Underwritten by the Women's Film Preservation Fund of New York Women in Film and Television, the new print premiered to packed houses last spring at Tribeca; it screens tonight with the filmmaker in attendance at the Walter Reade Theater. The Reeler recently caught up with Firestone about returning to Attica after three decades away -- and keeping it alive for decades ahead.

THE REELER: You came to the Tribeca revival earlier this year, right?

CINDA FIRESTONE: Yeah, I did. The two screenings sold out within an hour, and they added a third screening. I went to all three and did a Q&A afterward, which was interesting. I met some really, really interesting people and learned a lot besides just answering questions. I talked to one person who was a student at John Jay; we discussed the differences between penal systems then and now. And a guy who was in Attica whom I hadn't seen in 30 years. I kind of enjoyed it.

R: Most filmmakers dread them, but I guess this was your first in a few years?

CF: Years and years. I was just reminded of this one Q&A when I did a lot of colleges around New York City. It was all great except the NYU film school -- the graduate studies department. They were all guys, and they were so nasty to me. It was unbelievable. The professor had to get up on stage and yell at them to calm down. I think they were angry because I was younger than them, and I was a girl, and I hadn't gone to film school. And I'd made this movie. They accused me of being a fraud and insisted [Fox's mentor] Emile de Antonio really made it -- not me. I was just a front. It got really nasty. But other than that I really like doing Q&A's.

R: What was it like coming back to the film itself after 30 years?

CF: It was weird, because what happened was I thought I just let it lapse. Evidently it had a life of its own; there were zillions of bootlegs out there and people were watching it. My husband said to me: "The way things are going, I really think Attica's relevant again. I hate to say it, but I think you should re-release it." Literally the next day I got a call from the New York Public Library that they wanted to restore it. They'd wanted to restore it for years, except they didn't know where I was. I changed my name to Fox; I moved to Puerto Rico. But then they saw Andrew Firestone [the director's cousin] on The Bachelor and thought, "Gee, maybe he's related to Cinda." So they called him up, and he gave them my number. That's how it got restored.

The thing I don't find pleasant is that I still find it relevant. Even more relevant. The one thing that isn't still relevant is actually what the film is about: They don't go killing people anymore. I felt good about that because I found out the film was rented by tons of prison departments; they all watched and said, "OK, this is what we should do." On every other count, though, things have gotten worse. There are 2.2 million people in prison. Nobody even talks about rehabilitation anymore. There are no more federal grants to in and educate these guys. I had kind of forgotten how brutal it was. I'm usually a very squeamish person; I don't watch violent films or anything like that. When I was watching it after all those years, I thought, "Did I really make this?" You can see people shooting people in the head and kicking them in the groin. Horrible stuff. It reinforced to me how dangerous it is to give absolute power to other people.

R: And now it's almost the equivalent of a new film in many ways. At the very least, you're bringing it fresh to a new generation of audiences.

CF: Well, there's really sort of a chilling atmosphere now. I got beaten up really badly, and I got thrown in jail, but I was never really afraid, if you know what I mean. But now, this whole idea that someone can be called an enemy combatant and put away for years? That's scary! And nobody seems to be jumping up and down about it.

R: Is that perhaps a subject you might consider taking on in a new film?

CF: No, I keep trying to get out of politics. I moved down to Puerto Rico and I thought I'd just concentrate on my writing and my art. But now I'm incredibly politically involved in a local level. I thought I moved to paradise -- and physically, it is paradise -- but it's owned by this incredibly evil corporation. From the day we were here they've been dumping raw sewage in the ocean. They closed down the school. The sea turtles are endangered; people just build right on the beach. So I've been politically active down here, but I thought I was escaping.

R: So what have you been up to since 1974?

CF: After I did Attica, I made three documentaries that were on PBS: South Beach; Mountain People; and Retirement. I got a really great distributor who was going to start a 16-millimeter division, but then he died and gave the films over to the worst distributors in the world. Then I got really, really sick for about eight years. People said they thought it was because of Attica. After I got well and I married my husband, I did a lot of writing and got very involved in children's theater, a lot of scholarship work and counseling at the school I fought to keep open. But I've done quite a lot of writing that I want to get out now. I have a musical coming to Broadway called Family Fortune -- a comedy-murder mystery partially based on my family. I had to water it down a little bit because no one would believe it if I told the truth. I have a screenplay I want to get out about Madam C.J. Walker, the first black female self-made millionaire.

R: Wow. So you do plan to return to filmmaking in some way.

Well, my son is making a biography of me.

R: A documentary?

CF: Yes. And I may get sucked back into documentary because he's interested in documentary. But I'm more interested in screenwriting, even though I know it's a frustrating, terrible occupation. But it's really what I want to do. And I'm also writing my autobiography, which is fun.

R: Throughout all of that, did you keep any tabs on Attica, particularly its influence or reach among filmmakers?

CF: I just thought Attica had fallen off the map. At these screenings, though, people were saying, "No -- everyone's seen it." There are pirated versions and people are showing it in community groups. I found out the library has been showing it every year to commemorate Attica. One of my stepsons had an old copy and an old projector, and when he and is friends were bored, they'd just get together and watch Attica. I'd always meet these people, and they'd say, "Oh -- you made Attica?" And I'd think, "How did all of these people see it?" It played in like three or four theaters in the United States, and London and Paris. I just never thought that many people saw it.

R: I have to say I'm stunned. It's been huge all these years. Are you going to re-release it on DVD?

CF: Yes, but I want a good deal. I don't want anything like Star Wars, but I want it in at least a few theaters, because my experience when it first came out was that it's reviewed and people talk about it. That really helps the DVD sales. I've talked to a lot of different distributors; I'm just waiting for the right one. One of them was a huge disappointment. They weren't going to put it in a single theater; their terms were horrible. Thirty percent of the net? I turned that down for Mountain People and South Beach, and those were shorts. I was really shocked. I talked to another one who was really psyched, and then she said this gang of accountants came in said to just put it in the catalog. She was really upset. But that's OK. I just talked to her today; I said: "I know it's not your fault. Come to the screening anyway." I just got a call from Lionsgate. They're coming. Who knows?



Tribeca grand - The sixth annual film festival is upon us: Here's our concentrated guide to making the most of it.
By Melissa Anderson, David Fear and Joshua Rothkopf

TimeOut New York
April 19-25, 2007

Although it wasn't available for preview, how could we not endorse Cinda Firestone's 1974 doc on the infamous 1971 prison riot?

After their nonviolent attempts at reform failed (asking for better living conditions and vocational training), the inmates took prison guards hostage; excessive police force followed. Ultimately, at least 39 people died in the uprising.

"Attica! Attica!" was Al Pacino's rallying cry in Dog Day Afternoon' now it's ours, too.


Attica, Moving Documentary of Riot

The New York Times
April 12, 1974

New York Times masthead

The place is the Attica, N.Y., prison on a September day in 1971. The prisoners mill around the yard, improvising tents, sleeping, looking uneasily at cameras, which, equipped with telescopic lenses, can see them far more clearly than they can see the cameras.

The prisoners at Attica are in the middle of rebellion. They've issued a manifesto demanding reforms dealing with treatment of blacks and Puerto Ricans, with food, medical care, education. Says one prisoner: "They [the prison authorities] think we're just shucking and jiving." Says another: "We're not advocating violence. We're advocating communication and understanding."
Four days after the rebellion began, troopers armed with shotguns and rifles, some using dum-dum bullets, stormed the walk to secure what is genteelly called the correctional facility, leaving 32 inmates and 11 of their hostages dead, most from shots fired by the state police.

"Attica," produced and directed by Cinda Firestone, who also edited the film with Tucker Ashworth, is an exceptionally moving, outraged recollection of that terrible event. It's a documentary record of the event itself, the conditions that helped prompt it, and some of the things that have (and haven't) happened since. Though it asks questions that go unanswered, it is surprisingly temperate in tone.

"Attica" opened yesterday at the First Avenue Screening Room and it is, like "I. F. Stone's Weekly," a superior example of committed film making.

The thing that made Attica such a consciousness-raising event is preserved on film in the voices of the prisoners, both during and after the event, in interviews with the hostages, and in coverage of the official inquiries that followed it. We see it in the unity of the prisoners, in the discipline they maintained during the fruitless negotiations with correctional officials, in the faces of civilians who served on the unofficial "observers' committee," as well as in the faces of the men who made the decision to retake the prison by force.

Does a commitment to a desperate cause make a man lean and strong? Does representing an established system make another man look sort of swollen, overfed, the way the sheriff of Nottingham is always portrayed? I was beginning to think so while watching "Attica" until we are presented an interview with one especially articulate, passionately angry black prisoner who is in fact, almost plump. Stereotypes do not hold in "Attica."
Nor is its anger self-defeating. One of the most moving sequences in the film is composed of interviews with the members of the family of one black prisoner who, post-rebellion, has apparently embarked on a self-improvement binge. "You wouldn't be able to walk into my cell, for all the books I got," he has written his sister.

Eloquence keeps turning up in the midst of jargon, and there is nothing so eloquent as the last line of the film, spoken on the soundtrack by an ex-inmate who would shake the public out of its historic disinterest in penal reform. "Wake up," he says, "because nothing comes to a sleeper but a dream."

ATTICA, directed and produced by Cinda Firestone; edited by Cinda Firestone and Tucker Ashworth; camermen, Roland Barnes, Jay Lamarch, Mary Lampson, Jesse Goodman, Carol Stoin and Kevin Keating; distributed by Attica Films, Inc. Running time: 80 minutes. At the First Avenue Screening Room, First Avenue at 61st Street. This film has not been rated.



By Penelope Gilliat

The New Yorker
April 15, 1974

The New Yorker masthead, April 15, 1974

"ATTICA" is an aching, precise study of the days between the ninth and thirteenth of September, 1971, in a particularly harsh New York State prison. They ended in massacre when Governor Rockefeller, showing marked inertia, passed the responsibility that was likely to explode in his hands like a dumdum bullet to the New York State Commissioner of Corrections and the state troopers. The result was that actual dumdum bullets, "designed to expand inside the body of a game animal," as the film says, and outlawed by the Geneva Convention, came to be used by troopers, who indeed saw the inmates as beasts of quarry. Forty-three men ultimately died at Attica and more than eighty others were wounded by one of the greatest concentrations of killing weapons ever brought against American citizens by an arm of the government. Apart from the Indian massacres, more died in this purely domestic conflict than in any other all-American crisis since the Civil War.

The terse and truly investigative film was produced, directed, and edited by Cinda Firestone. It is interspersed with footage of statements made by members of the committee of inmate observers. The observers, from right-wingers to left-wingers, were unanimous in their judgment of the validity of the prisoners’ proposals. They spoke up for the care so amazingly taken of the hostages by men already nearly obliterated by years of inhuman conditions and now by every mortal threat. There are cut-ins of the McKay Commission hearings in the spring of 1972, when the government came out guilty of malfeasance and duplicity; yet no one in power has since been indicted – no state trooper or prison official. All the indictments were against the prison inmates: sixty-one of them.

Newspapers and television reported at the time, in an atmosphere of racial hysteria, that nine hostages had been killed. Prison officials announced that seven were dead from throat-cutting by the prisoners. The film shows a police spokesman later, answering newsmen in a fluster, “I said ‘several,’ not ‘seven.’” For by that time, “several” had turned out to be none: autopsies had shown that every one of the unaemed dead was killed by New York State official bullets.

The cause of the uprisings was not just the prison conditions that restricted men normally imprisoned to be “rehabilitated” to one shower a week, to repulsive food handed out as if to curs, to restricted reading matter, to censored letters. (In their rock-bottom list of requests, men permitted to earn twenty-five cents a day pitifully pleases for the right to send uncensored letters “at their own expense.”) The cause was not even just the ordinary enmity between the locked-up and the free. The fateful crevasse was probably racial. The prisoners, mostly urban, were also mostly black or Puerto Rican. The guards were all white (except for one black employee, a teacher), and they had mostly come from rural areas. To be a prison guard earned more speedy money than to be a farmer, and provided a pension as well. But the cause of the riot was not apprehended by the people on top. One state guard insists in the film that, yes, there are differences, but “we seem to mingle.” The cost of the faulty relationship that was no real mingling was the death of forty-three men.

It can make an ordinarily humane man numb to hold a machine gun or to have the distance from ground to state-trooper helicopter between a corpse-strewn prison yard and himself. From the highest point of a gun tower, or when the prisoners reek for lack of a bath, the inmates can conveniently be written off as little animals. “You know what their mentality is? Very low,” says the same New York State guard. That’s all. Mentality “very low.” The dismissive statement interrupts more meditative remarks by an Attica ex-inmate called Joe Little, a sage with the commodious soul of a Buddhist, whose struggles to educate himself and to comprehend the working of the guards’ minds in the old hellhole are patiently intelligent. He tells us about the hiring of guards. “Nepotism” operates, he says. That’s getting “your brother, your uncle, your cousin” into jobs. Like him, most of the prisoners think of the guards with a surprising lack of bitterness. They are generally quite good-tempered toward these men who habitually turn the beds in the cells upside down for no reason except to manufacture even more squalor, and who regard prisoners as people incapable of change. One prisoner looks on the jail system as a rich world’s folly, “a multi-million-dollar enterprise or industry, and it’s the only industry that functions off of failures.” An enterprise not aimed particularly at him. For all the unity of feeling created by the murder of George Jackson at San Quentin, across the continent, there is very little spite recorded in the generous film. An Attica inmate called James Richie says levelly about the riot yard, “There were many hostages out there that I had previous grievances with. But these things became obsolete in my mind at that stage because something much higher was at stake.”

Cinda Firestone’s quiet picture uses horrifying film footage: shots taken through state troopers’ telescopic rifle lenses; musings by inmates which sometimes sputter into anger against a world that finds descriptions of Attica incredible; riot quellers insensibly proud of their skill with weapons, showing off their prowess before the commission of inquiry. We see the crass brushoffs by Rockefeller of desperate reports by the observers on the spot, who said right up to the last minute that massacre was not yet inevitable if the Governor would only negotiate instead of allowing violence to fill the vacuum. Tom Wicker’s sleepless face comes to life when he speaks with controlled rage of the observers’ plea for Rockefeller’s presence. In Wicker here we see the face of a fine reporter and muckraker who will not give up.

Some of the material is in black-and-white splashed with red, some in normally varied color, some in black-and-white for TV reporting and perhaps for the record. “A few guards, they try to relate… This very young guard who might come in… and try to relate to, you know, me or someone else… he’s really harassed by his own fellow-guards.,” says Joe Little, thinking aloud about the lives among black prisoners of the top dogs, who are nearly all white. Something had to happen. A sense of injustice had to flare against these white fortunates who tried to mesmerize the black inmates into thinking that the coldwater flats they lived in before Attica’s cells were good enough. Memories are conveniently short, though. The Pepper Committee, investigating prison conditions in general later in 1971, asked the warden of Attica, “Could you tell us what lessons you have learned from the disruption and what programs you have adopted to try to avoid any recurrence?” The warden said, “We have instituted two gun posts.” Jessica Mitford, before writing her book on prisons, “Kind and Usual Punishment,” did studious research and found that the inmates were now being allowed two baths a week, and an unheralded supply of lavatory paper without limit. If Attica disturbed our slumber for a mere month or two, one of the qualities of this trumpet call of a film is that it makes the disturbance enduring. At the end, an ex-inmate named Frank Smith says, “Wake up! Because nothing comes to a sleeper but a dream.”




People Magazine
May 6, 1974

People magazine masthead, May 6, 1974

Cinda Firestone, 25, is a new filmmaker with unlikely credits: she is a scion of the tire-and-rubber fortune, and alumna of Jacqueline Kennedy's finishing school (Miss Porter's), of Sarah Lawrence College, and of the Detroit city jail. Although her privleged background is not much different from Patricia Hearst's, young Cinda Firestone has known for years precisely where her political sympathies lay. She is a pragmatic radical, with some sense of humor and perspective about it -- and now, a sense of genuine accomplishment. Cinda has produced Attica, a polemical but acclaimed documentary of the New York prison uprising which, when state troopers moved in, took the lives of 32 inmates and 11 of their guard hostages.

New York Times reviewer Vincent Canby described the 80-minute compendium of footage from the riot and subsequent inquest as "an exceptionally moving, outraged recollection of that terrible event." It has already been honored at two foreign film festivals and is a hot new property on the campus movie circuit.

Photo of Cinda Firestone in 1967

It was during her own college career that Cinda careened from the Philadelphia debutante cotillion to the SDS. After graduation she worked for the radical Liberation News Service (a hassle during coverage of a United Auto Workers strike got her jailed in Detroit for five days), and then she eased her way in to the medium most persuasive to her contemporaries -- film. While interviewing Emile de Antonio, who had produced the documentary Point of Order on the Army-McCarthy hearings, she overheard him telling a phone caller he needed an assistant. She volunteered for the job herself.

Photo of Cinda Firestone from 1970

Her apprenticeship had barely begun when the events of Attica impelled her into her own production. "I was really learning how to make a movie as I made a movie," she says. The project was facilitated by a friend from a TV network who slipped her in to use the company's film editing equipment after hours. Her mother, whom Cinda describes as the argot of her age as "slightly to the right of Louis XV," financed the $40,000 film solely to keep her daughter out of debt.

"I refuse to feel guilty about my class background," says Cinda, though she will donate the film's first-year revenues to the Attica Defense Fund. "But I get really bugged by white middle-class intellectuals who think they can dictate the way the revolution is going to go." Because Cinda doesn't think "we're ready for armed struggle yet," she's content to make her statement as a filmmaker. Her second documentary will be on the plight of the aged.

Photo of Cinda Firestone from 1974

A somewhat ascetic "loner" since she left the collective she shared with fellow members of the Liberation News Service, Cinda now lives with three cats and a mutt on Manhattan's Upper West Side. Her apartment is spacious but inelegant and has been robbed several times. She does not smoke and drinks wine only rarely. Cinda's diversions are mainly browses through art museumsm walks in Central Park, occasional evenings of dancing at discotheques, and a fascination with raot cards diminished of late by their so far fallacioys prediction that his would be a bad year for her.




CINDA FIRESTONE (center) when she appeared recently on the Mike Douglas show. Mike (left) introduced her to Sly Stone, who was also a guest on the show. Miss Firestone produces documentary films.

La oveja negra de la dinastía

Especial para El Nuevo Día

El Nuevo Dia

La sola mención de su nombre en especial ese primer apellido, evoca imágenes de fortunas inconmesurables, vidas épicas, proezas legendarias riquezas inconcebibles. Y mucho poder.

Criada entre sirvientes y choferes, nodrizas e institutrices, caros colegios privados y fiestas de sociedad, la vida de Cinda está fabricada con los retazos más finos del material con el que los simples mortales confeccionamos nuestros sueños. Aunque ella alega que “nació en la famiia incorrecta”.

La sala de prensa del famoso festival de cine de Tribeca en el “downtown” neoyorquino hierve de actividad. Y ahí, en medio del ambiente orgánico de la industria cinematográfica y toda la locura de su amplia cobertura mediática, rodeados de apresuradas entrevistas de pasillo y equipos de producción de telenoticiarios que se montan y desmontan en un abrir y cerrar de ojos, nos recibe la escritora y directora.

Cinda Firestone Fox

Diminuta y delgada, de piel pálida, casi traslúcida, como la de algunas criaturas acuáticas, y unos cabellos claros que, con una caída apacible, le cubren el ojo derecho, Cinda se mueve por el salón con los pasos calculados de los felinos peligrosos, asume el peso que ese apellido tan mítico y legendario coloca sobre sus endeble humanidad con una actitud de desaflo un tanto desconcertante, dueña de su lugar y de su espacio, emanando confianza y asertiva.

Cinda fue educada, como todas las hijas del privilegio con las que compartió su infancia, para representar bien su nombre y alcurnia, para cargar con dignidad ese apellido lleno de significado que la ata inmisericorde, para bien o para mal, a una de las dinastías americanas más notorias de nuestros tiempos.

Al inicio de nuestra charla, luego de informarle que es mi interés el conocer a Cinda la mujer, la persona, saber de la vida de una heredera de Firestone, la artista guarda silencio por unos segundos, demasiado tiempo considerando el tumulto de periodistas desvelados y aturdidos qu.e revolotean a nuestro alrededor y el aire de prisa imperante en el recinto.

Cinda se da un momento para considerar con atención los detalles de esa crianza y educación y las consecuencias de cargar con ese apellido que, con su fuerza implicíta y resonancias de leyenda, la colma de privilegios por un lado, pero en la que se sentía totalmente fuera de lugar mientras crecía.

“Yo siempre pensé que nací en la familia incorrecta. Nunca encajé bien en ella”, cuenta Cinda al recordar detalles de su heterodoxa crianza, su tumultuosa vida familiar y la conflictiva relación que siempre tuvo con su madre, una mujer, según la escritora, demasiado impresionada por el apellido y posición de su marido. “Mi madre se casó con este hombre muy rico y se mudó a FiladelfIa, el lugar más ‘snob’ del mundo”, comenta Cinda sobre su progenitora.

“Yo creo que ella sabía que no encajaba bien en ese mundo y siempre pensó que yo encajaría, que me moldearía para ser este tipo perfecto de debutante en sociedad. Pero cuando yo tenía apenas un año de edad ya ella se convenció de que no sería así”, dice la escritora al subrayar que su madre hizo hasta lo imposible por moldearla y al final se dio por vencida. Incluso, cuenta la artista, su madre la mantenía alejada de sus hermanas menores por que la consideraba “una mala influencia”.

Cinda se crió abrumada por un absurdo itinerario de imposibles metas educativas, demasiadas actividades extracurriculares y otras doctrinas musicales. Una serie de expectativas dificiles de digerir por la brillante e impetuosa chiquilla que no comprendía la naturaleza de tanta exigencia y tanta reglamentación y estructura cultural.

“Si las demás compañeras asistían a una clase de baile en martes alternos, yo era obligada a ir a dos clases, todos los martes”, cuenta mientras se acomoda en su asiento y bate el aire a su alrededor con un manotazo cortante, acentuando su frustración.

Mientras crecía en las faldas del lujo, entre la adulación de la alta sociedad y los mimos de una exquisitez exagerada e indulgente, su madre y ella discutían por todo. Yo quería montar, ella se negaba”; yo quería aprender a ‘velear’ y ella se negaba a eso también. Esas peleas con mi familia moldearon mi personalidad. Yo crecí con mucho coraje”.

Su actitud rebelde y combativa definitivamente la ha distanciado de su familia. Periodista, escritora “desde siempre”, abiertamente en oposición al conflicto en Vietnam, donde murió uno de sus amigos, Cinda cuenta que en una de sus muchas correrías como reportera fue encarcelada mientras cubria una protesta y la familia se reunió y decidió dejarla encerrada. “Básicamente me desheredaron”, dice conmovida al relatar lo que sintió al verse abandonada por su familia. “Al final, yen contra de la voluntad de la familia, mi hermano mayor me rescató de la cárcel”.

Hoy, en la fecha de esta entrevista, Cinda está de celebración. El reestreno de su filme de 1973 “Attica”, un documental en el que se le acredita como escritora, directora y editora, se describe en los medios internacionales como uno de los momentos más destacados del famoso festival de cine.

Centrado en los eventos ocurridos en la cárcel del mismo nombre en el Nueva York de 197l, cuando un grupo de reclusos amotinados tomaron como rehenes a varios guardias del penal, el documental explora la controversia que sigue al culminar el funesto evento con la entrada violenta de la Policía y la muerte de varios reclusos y rehenes.

“Me tomó tres años terminarlo”, señala aún con entusiasmo Cinda mientras recuerda las largas horas de trabajo con el celuloide y las rudimentarias herramientas de edición de los setenta, añadidas a los escollos burocráticos que encontró al querer consolidar todos los elementos gráficos que terminaron en el documental.

Cinda se ha mantenido activa haciendo a su solaz lo que más disfruta en esta vida: escribir musicales y guiones para peliculas. Junto a su esposo, el productor de teatro Manny Fox (“Sophisticated Ladies”, “Murderous Instincts”), Cinda ha llevado su trabajo teatral a escenarios en Nueva York, San Juan y Londres.

La pareja se la pasa viajando entre sus residencias en Nueva York, Humacao y Los Ángeles desarrollando proyectos teatrales, literarios y cinematográficos.

Empecinada en crear en convertir aquello que la apasiona en una vocación que le permita compartir con el mundo unas inquietudes que no tienen nada que ver con lo que le tocó ser, Cinda se ye cosechando los frutos del trabajo que ahora la ocupa. Tal vez en el futuro, como sucedió treinta y tantos años después con “Attica”, su obra reciba el reconocimiento que amerite y no las adulaciones que pueda comprar su fortuna o atraiga con su abolengo. Ella misma admite que “no es lo que sabes, sino a quién conoces”.

Ahora todo su empeño está en producir un cuerpo de trabajo que por el momento le garantice las satisfacciones que sólo un escritor puede sentir. Una obra que coloque ese apellido tan mítico, tan legendario y tan poderoso en otro escalafón. No en uno más alto ni mucho menos más bajo, sino en un es calafón diferente. En una gesta que defina las inquietudes de una artista y se preocupe menos del lugar o las condiciones de su nacimiento.

La escritora aún se niega a aceptar lo que el mundo le ofrece o lo absurdo del ambiente en el que siempre se ha movido. Aún se cuestiona por qué las cosas tienen que ser así. ¿Cómo puede ser posible el decir la verdad y salir perdiendo?

Atada a la verdad por fuerza de la convicción y en plena conciencia de su valor como una de las virtudes que definen la excelencia (lo que aprendió de su progenitora), cuenta la artista cómo esa virtud empecinadamente inquebrantable le costó cara durante su tercer grado de escuela elemental tras los infames acontecimientos de una misteriosa desaparición de lápices.

Según Cinda, enigmáticamente, los lápices comenzaron a desaparecer de los escritorios. Todos los días alguien perdía uno, dos, tres lápices. Todos, menos ella.

“Todos los demás niños decían haber perdido lápices pam que nadie pensara que ellos pudieran ser los ladrones. Yo sólo decía la verdad”, alega con un énfasis innecesario.

Hubiese sido más fácil mentir, sólo un poco, una blanca mentirilla para salvar cara. Pero no. Cinda no sabe mentir porque no puede concebir la vida de otra manera, aunque hasta el día de hoy tenga que cargar con la terrible fama de ser una impenitente ladrona de lápices.

Ser beneficiaria del imperio Firestone y pretender comportarse como un ser sensible con ambiciones artísticas es un contrasentido que aprendió a sobreltevar aun a riesgo de ser desheredada.


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