When Eric Garner’s life was tragically choked out of him by former New York police officer Daniel Pantaleo, the slaughter gave birth to a budding filmmaker’s debut movie American Trial: The Eric Garner Story.
Premiering at the annual New York Film Festival, Roee Messinger’s movie explores what might have happened had Pantaleo been indicted and gone to trial for administering the outlawed chokehold technique.
Pantaleo was never indicted for any crime in Garner’s death. who was killed in 2014 in the Staten Island borough just for selling loose cigarettes. He was, however, fired in 2019 for using the banned throat-crushing tactic to subdue a suspect.
The film will be unique on several fronts. First, the film is made by an outsider as Messinger was born in Israel and raised in Mexico. Secondly, Messinger will not recap what took place, but what might have happened had Pantaleo been brought to trial for murder or manslaughter.
Thirdly, the film will use real lawyers and other non-actors in this film and will include the insights from Garner’s widow, Esaw.
“Eric Garner was killed on the summer break between my first and second year of film school, and the non-indictment decision came just before the Christmas break of the second year,” Messinger told the Hollywood Reporter. “I don’t think I was naive about racial relations in the U.S., but it surprised me and disturbed me in a very profound way. One day I realized that I was living in the city where it happened, and it wouldn’t be all that difficult to get in touch with the people who would have participated in a trial, if it had gone to trial. That’s how the film was born.
The director wants the film to continue to stoke much needed conversation about how much race plays in American judicial matters.
“What I would really love is if I heard that people went out and continued to talk about it. There are a lot of underlying questions that are in the subtext of the film that are not about whether or not Pantaleo was guilty but much more broad because Eric Garner is one of many incidents. Why was there never a trial? Who decides when a cop is prosecuted or not? How much does race still play a factor in the justice system? If the audience comes out from this film asking themselves those questions, that is what I’m hoping for.”