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
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
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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