Shola Lynch’s documentary about Angela Davis, the activist and beacon of counterculture radicalism, is a snappily edited, archivally wallpapered recollection of fearless behavior in the face of an antsy establishment. But it’s equally significant as a pointed act of retelling.
The focal point of “Free Angela and All Political Prisoners” — Ms. Davis’s trial for her role in the deadly 1970 Marin County, Calif., courtroom takeover — will not yield left-field revelations to anyone familiar with this era. But Ms. Lynch, who directed a 2004 look at another forceful female black leader in “Chisholm ’72: Unbought and Unbossed,” interviews Ms. Davis and her associates for a vivid portrait of a time.
“Free Angela” sketches out its subject’s graduate education in Europe, early support for the Black Panthers and aborted career as an assistant professor of philosophy at the University of California, Los Angeles, before chronicling the trial and dramatic related events, including Ms. Davis’s weeks as a fugitive and 1972 acquittal. The stands taken by many involved lend a stirring idealistic drive to the film. Ms. Lynch rarely fans out from a supportive viewpoint of Ms. Davis’s actions or ideas, though she dwells on Ms. Davis’s passionate letters to the Black Panther and prison inmate George Jackson, whose freedom was the goal of the courtroom takeover.
Ms. Davis, today approaching 70, cannot be contained by what is going on around her. She retains an elegantly barbed wit and remains a resonant speaker. Although “Free Angela” approaches hagiography, Ms. Davis supplies a certain spark simply with her presence.