Hold Your Fire documents a formative moment in hostage negotiations. In 1973, four Black men tried to rob a sporting goods store of guns. Up until then, the policy of the New York Police Department was to ask for surrender, wait a short amount of time, then charge in with deadly force. This situation seemed like it was going to be the same, but forces had aligned to force the NYPD to try something different.
The documentary uses interviews from those involved to tell conflicting stories of what happened that day. Hold Your Fire begins by showing the different takes on the unfolding events. Some of the recollections show minor differences, while others are outright contradictions. This sets the tone for Hold Your Fire. Instead of just being talking heads, the interviewees have strong opinions. This leads to talks about race and the relationships between police and Black people. It is interesting to hear how the police perceive what has happened versus what everyone else does.
There are a lot of interesting interviews and opposing views in the film, but the most fascinating person to listen to is Harvey Schlossberg. He was an NYPD psychologist who believed that all problems could be solved through talking. This was a novel way to look at hostage situations in the early 70s and though just about every police department practices it today, there still seems to be the line of thought that hostage negotiators are not real police. One of the police officers who was there “respectfully” describes Schlossberg as “not a man of action and the kind of person who wouldn’t have a drink with his co-workers”. HIs approach was seen as weak and less macho.
As it turns out, Schlossberg’s unmanly way of handling that hostage situation led to no one dying. (There was a police officer that was killed in a shootout before the actual negotiations began.) Hold Your Fire sheds light on a man and event that are rarely heard about today.
The Toronto International Film Festival takes place virtually and in person from September 9 – September 18
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