Q&A: Mumia Abu-Jamal Archenemy Tigre Hill

The Barrel of a Gun director speaks

Tonight, local filmmaker Tigre Hill premieres his Mumia documentary The Barrel of a Gun at the Merriam. I reached him at his home in Wynnefield to chat about it.

So let’s get the important question out of the way. Is it TEE-gray or TIE-gray? I’ve heard both.
It’s TEE-gray. But along the way when I was a kid, somebody made the “I” long, so people started calling me TIE-gray. My grandfather was Filipino, and when I was born, he said that I looked like a little tiger. So Tigre was it. And it stuck.

They say that with the new technology out there, anyone can make a movie. How hard is it, really?
Well, digital technology is available and cheaper, and the quality is phenomenal. But it’s all about being able to tell a story. You can self-publish if you want to, you can make your own films, make your own music. The difficult part is telling a story well. And The Barrel of a Gun was very hard because of the subject matter. People were reluctant to talk, skeptical of where it was going. There were problems gaining access to certain things. But that’s what I signed up for.

Shame of a City painted John Street in a not-so-nice light, and now you’re taking on Mumia. As an African-American, how often do you get Uncle Tom accusations?
Nobody tells it to me to my face, but it’s certainly out there, in certain sectors of the community. But when people say that Shame is an anti-John Street movie, I say it’s not. I just showed what happened, and some people didn’t like it. I’m not anti-Mumia. I’m looking at the facts and telling the story the way I see it. Listen, if the facts came out where I thought he was innocent, I would have shouted that. But they didn’t.

Okay, but why do this movie now? Isn’t Mumia a well-beaten dead horse?
Well, yes for the side that thinks he’s innocent or the people who have all kinds of conspiracy theories. But I really don’t know of any other film that tells the story in this way. It’s very much a fresh look at the entire situation.

What’s your stance on the death penalty?
I’m anti-death penalty. The worst punishment is to rot in jail for the rest of your life. Some people feel that if you take a life, you should give your own. But I say rot in jail.

With all of the people who have committed murder and then proclaimed innocence, what is it about the Mumia case that makes people care?
It’s almost like a very well organized public relations campaign. If you’re gonna promote somebody or something, you want them to be promotable. And Mumia is an articulate, well-spoken person who can write and communicate his message, which is uncommon. Plus, he was a former Black Panther, and in the city at the time, with the legacy of Rizzo, people latched onto the story and it spread. They were able to craft a story to appeal to certain people. And when you hear that story the way they tell it, you think, Oh my god, maybe he really did get railroaded. But those people aren’t hearing the real facts of the case..

You love turning the camera on other people and yet you seem to be slightly uncomfortable when you are the focus.
I don’t like doing press. You work on a project. It’s a lot of work. And then in a few sentences, you have to sum it all up. I’m not scared of being misquoted. I’m scared of being quoted accurately.

Go to kimmelcenter.org to buy tickets for the premiere, which benefits the Daniel Faulkner Educational Grant Fund.

Read more about Hill and his film in this article from our May 2010 issue.