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The Skyjacker's Tale

Jamie KastnerCanada75 minutes201614AColourEnglish

Canadian documentarian Jamie Kastner (The Secret Disco Revolution) looks back at a notorious 1970s murder trial in the Virgin Islands — where five politicized young islanders were convicted of a massacre at a ritzy country club — and its dramatic aftermath a decade later, when the culprits’ ostensible leader staged a skyjacking and found refuge in Cuba.

Forty-four years ago, the small island of St. Croix, one of the US Virgin Islands, was rocked by brutal murders at a ritzy country club catering to oil executives and tourists. Seven of the eight victims were wealthy white people. Dubbed the Fountain Valley Massacre, the killings put the entire island on lockdown — and unsurprisingly, the culprits eventually identified by police were politicized young islanders. After a contentious trial (where the men were represented by noted civil rights activist William Kunstler), all of the defendants were convicted. Chances are they would have been long forgotten had not Ishmael Labeet, the group's ostensible leader, hijacked a plane and taken asylum in Cuba in 1984, where he still lives today.

Veteran director Jamie Kastner (The Secret Disco Revolution) digs deep into the events surrounding the murders and subsequent trial, tracking down and interviewing principals on both sides, including Labeet and one of the policemen who apprehended him. What he brings to light radically alters conventional views of the case. The building of an oil refinery by a multinational corporation with strong ties to prominent US businessmen and politicians (including Nelson D. Rockefeller) turned St. Croix into a tourist hotspot. But very little of the money trickled down to the actual inhabitants of the island, fuelling enormous resentment among the populace that was met by a draconian response from the government.

Along the way, Kastner smartly lampoons the pulpy, tabloid style currently fashionable in documentary - with its portentous overtones and unexamined assumptions about race and crime — creating a layered portrait of a past that seems eerily, and sadly, much like our present.

STEVE GRAVESTOCK

PoliticsDiscriminationCaribbeanCrimeCanadaBlack + African DiasporaDocumentary