Documentarian Jamie Kastner has unearthed quite a story for his latest documentary, “The Skyjacker’s Tale,” which originates on the tiny island of St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands. The case of the 1984 plane hijacking is a bit of a lark — where the passengers repeatedly mention the politeness of their hijacker — but the tale that precedes it is one of a horrific massacre, a racist justice system and the oppression of a colonized people.
On New Year’s Eve 1984, prisoner Ishmael Muslim Ali, a.k.a. Ishmael LaBeet, commandeered a commercial aircraft traveling from St. Croix to New York with a small gun and demanded to be delivered to Cuba. He has remained in exile there for more than 30 years.
But this film focuses on the terrible massacre of seven white visitors and one black worker at the Fountain Valley Golf Club in St. Croix in 1972, for which the radical Black Panther and native Virgin Islander LaBeet, along with his crew, was tried and convicted. It’s a wild true-crime tale, with the killings, investigation and courtroom drama bookended by the hijacking.
Kastner uses interviews, footage shot on the island, and archival footage to weave the story together, but the groovy retro soundtrack and nearly blaxploitation-style reenactments create a tone that’s out of step with the seriousness of the crimes and corruption described. These stylistic choices could have undermined the film, but the story and revelations are so shocking and powerfully absorbing that “The Skyjacker’s Tale” rises above.
‘The Skyjacker’s Tale’
Running time: 1 hour, 16 minutes
Playing: Laemmle Monica Film Center, Santa Monica