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La Amistad Sails Again

To achieve the scenes aboard the Amistad, the production used two different historic schooners: Maryland's state ship, The Pride of Baltimore II, on the East Coast; and California's state ship, The Californian, off the coast of Los Angeles. Both ships were painted and dressed to resemble the Amistad in various states of disrepair.

Some of the film's most difficult scenes were accomplished during a week of filming at sea. Under the guidance of marine coordinator Harry Julian, the production company relocated to a "floating" city just over a mile off the coast of San Pedro. Julian describes the flotilla: "We had a 200-foot by 60-foot barge that could accommodate 40-ton rigs, 50-ton cranes, and all the other facilities. There were passenger boats to move people back and forth to shore, camera boats, chase boats to move people from ship to ship, and tug boats to tow the barge itself."

For five rigorous days of filming, the cast and crew braved swells that never seemed to end, but even back on solid ground they had more swaying to endure. The actual mutiny scenes were filmed on a ship deck built on a Van Nuys soundstage. The special effects team constructed the set of the ship on a gimble, a series of hydraulically-powered lifts that simulated the appropriate rocking motion. Combined with the massive wave-generating dump tanks, and rain and lightning effects, it was a convincing recreation of the storm-swept night when Cinque and his countrymen broke free of their chains and took back their freedom.

Allen notes, "The name La Amistad means friendship, which is such an ironic name for a ship with a cargo of people who have been stolen from their homes. But the name is also significant because of the abolitionists and the missionaries and the other American people who worked so hard to help the Amistad Africans gain their freedom. So friendship has an interesting place throughout this movie."

Spielberg adds, "This film will never leave any of us. We can walk away from the production, but the subject will aways be with us. It's just something I'm really glad I had a part in. While making this film, I never felt I was telling someone else's story. I felt very much like I was telling everyone's story. This is a story that people of all nationalities and races should know."

"To me, this story is ultimately about justice," Allen concludes. "It's about the power and the will of the human spirit to transcend a stronger power that might seem to have more control. You may feel that you're weak and defenseless, but with courage you can persevere."


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