ATLANTA — An hours-long standoff at a Wells Fargo bank in Marietta is the subject of the opening night film at this year's Atlanta Film Festival.
In 2017, Marine Veteran Brian Brown-Easley walked into the Marietta bank, stated he had a bomb, and began making demands, largely - as portrayed in the film - stemming from frustrations toward the V.A.
Over the course of several hours, Brown-Easley stayed inside the building with two female hostages, all while negotiating with Cobb County Police.
By the time authorities managed to enter the building using a SWAT vehicle, he was dead. Police at the time labeled the death as an "officer-involved shooting."
The movie now based on the incident, "892," marks the feature debut of Abi Damaris Corbin, a self-proclaimed Boston-bred writer/director currently working out of Los Angeles.
For her, Brown-Easley's story was more than just the kind of ripped-from-the-headlines story that makes for an engaging crime picture.
"Brian's story is one that is deeply personal for me because my dad's a veteran," Corbin explained. She added that after reading an article on Brown-Easley and the circumstances that drove him to holding up the bank, she "understood my dad better and had a lot more empathy."
Corbin and her writing partner, Kwame Kwei-Armah, ultimately went through great detail to ensure the accuracy and truthfulness of their story, listening to police recordings from the day, 911 calls, reading reports and even walking the path toward the bank itself.
"We really did our best to honor the truth of the story," she added. The two even talked to Brown-Easley's wife to better understand the complicated man at the center of their story
But, Corbin said it was ultimately the actors who took the time to get to know the real-life people they would be playing that would add the greatest authenticity; in particular, John Boyega who portrays Brown-Easley.
Many will likely recognize Boyega from his role in the "Star Wars" franchise; however, it was actually his part in a much smaller sci-fi flick that caught Corbin's eye.
"I'd seen him in 'Attack the Block' and am such a fan of his artistry, and knew he had so much more to bring to the table," she said. "So when we talked, it was just over the art of it. How can we do justice to this man's story? How can we make sure this story doesn't have to be told again in 20 years?"
Corbin went on to describe the young actor as "hungry and ripe," the kind of performer whose "instrument was crafted to be able to give a performance that brought a humanity."
Playing a hostage negotiator attempting to keep the situation inside the bank calm and under control, Corbin cast the late Michael K. Williams, who passed away last fall. The film marks one of his final on-screen performances.
Corbin spoke of the acclaimed actor and the effect he had not just on her, but everyone around the set.
"When we first sat down together, I said to him 'hey, you're an elder statesman. This story is really important to me,' and he said 'hey, I got your back.' He respected the other artists he collaborated with so much and he did that with each person he interacted with," she explained.
Recalling his time on set, Corbin fondly spoke of Williams' willingness to be a part of scenes even when he was not on screen. With much of his dialogue with Boyega being over phone, Corbin said Williams gladly sat out in 100-degree weather and even in a closet at one point to maintain the connection between him and his co-star.
"He took time to talk to all of the extras who were in scenes with him to give them career advice. He saw other people. He saw others," she concluded.
That same humanity extends to Corbin's direction as well. For such a tense movie, there's an unexpected amount of humanity in "892."
"For me, it's about collaborating with really incredible artists that don't treat people as ideas, we treat people as people who are imperfect. Even the person who has the best intentions makes mistakes," Corbin said, adding "we wanted to be honest with who we really are as humans."
Part of the way the movie is able to achieve this is through its thoughtful and precise scope. Corbin keeps the focus largely inside the bank for the movie's first half, gradually broadening it to the outside world and adding flashbacks toward the end.
"When we first approached the script, I think our first version was verbatim what happened that day. It was very long," she said, adding that her and her writing partner eventually decided to focus on "snapshots," small pieces that she described as being the "hottest point in the fire."
"In terms of starting smaller and then opening up, it felt like it was a chamber piece at first, where you have these few actors in the bank and then you open up into the world around them and you gradually see that wrap around this bank, and so the tension ratchets up piece upon piece, line upon line, scene upon scene. Then you feel the humanity but you also feel the stakes that way," Corbin said.
What always remains clear throughout the storytelling though is Corbin's perspective and desire not just to tell a true-crime thriller but one that hopefully sheds a light on other socioeconomic issues.
Corbin herself has worked with nonprofit organizations in urban areas concerned with social and economic change, according to a release. It's a passion that also extends into her art.
"I think the thing that shapes our world is storytelling. The stories that you tell yourself, the narratives that you know are what you can pursue. If you look back in history, you are able to analyze a civilization by the stories that are told about it and I'm hopeful that if we tell stories now that are of flashpoints in our society, that are reckoning, they won't have to be told in 30 years by the next generation," she said. "Whatever the genre is, for me, doesn't matter as much, it's more about - is this story going to be a narrative that moves people in a way that improves our culture and gives us better stories to tell in the future?"
Distributor Bleecker Street plans on releasing "892" on Aug. 26.