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Saturday May 18th 2024

Amistad | 1997

Amistad film location: Mystic Seaport Museum, Mystic, Connecticut
Amistad location: Mystic Seaport Museum, Mystic, Connecticut | wikimedia / Ad Meskens

Amid accusations of plagiarism and Disneyfication, Steven Spielberg followed the success of his grown-up movie, Schindler’s List, with another worthy slice of history.

The opening mutiny scenes are a mix of studio and location filming. Daytime exteriors filmed aboard two different schooners at two separate locations – on the east coast, the Amistad is played by Maryland’s state ship, the Pride of Baltimore II (the original Pride of Baltimore tragically sank in 1986, with the loss of four lives), while over on the west coast, a ‘floating city’ was constructed a mile off the coast of San Pedro, the harbour south of Los Angeles (Spielberg learned his lessons about seaborne shoots the hard way on Jaws). The boat here was the state ship, too, the Californian.

The port is Mystic Seaport, about ten miles east of New London, Connecticut, home of America’s leading maritime museum, where a reproduction of the schooner is to be built to help teach history. And, yes, it’s the town featured in Mystic Pizza. More material was filmed around Groton Long Point, Connecticut.

Most of the filming, however, took place in Newport, Rhode Island, where the prison exteriors were built. The major location is the city’s historic Washington Square. Here, the Colony House, dating from 1739 and once the site of Rhode Island’s colonial government, provided two locations for the major courtroom scenes.

The arraignment of the Africans was shot in the Colony’s ground floor, and the next courtroom scenes, in the Appellate Court, were filmed in the upstairs courtroom of Colony House. When permission to film the climactic scene in the real Supreme Court Building, Washington DC was refused, the courtroom was reproduced on a local soundstage.

Amistad filming location: Massachusetts State House, Beacon Street, Boston
Amistad location: the ‘US House of Representatives’: Massachusetts State House, Beacon Street, Boston

The ‘US House of Representatives’ was filmed in Massachusetts, inside the Massachusetts State House, Boston (a location since featured in Martin Scorsese's Boston-set The Departed).