“Hold Your Fire,” Stefan Forbes’ gripping new documentary, details a tense standoff between police and four young African American men at a sporting goods store in Brooklyn, N.Y. Though set in 1973, the issues that Forbes’ film probes, ones of racism, police brutality and gun violence, remain fiercely urgent. Though Forbes conceived of the documentary years ago, it took on an added resonance in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and the wave of social activism that gripped the country in the summer of 2020.
But what’s most startling about “Hold Your Fire” is that it presents an unlikely hero in Harvey Schlossberg, a Freudian psychoanalyst who helped write the book on conflict resolution as an officer with the New York City Police Department. It’s Schlossberg who manages to convince his trigger-happy fellow officers to engage with the hostage takers, preventing a tragic situation from devolving into a bloody disaster.
“He was able to see the situation more deeply,” says Forbes. “He understood that at the heart of this conflict were four scared young men. Cops love a bad guy. Harvey looked beyond labels to see the need to establish communication. I hope Harvey’s message will resonate with viewers and help us think about how we resolve problems in this county.”
“Hold Your Fire” unfolds in the aftermath of the Attica prison riot and the 1972 Brooklyn bank robbery that later inspired “Dog Day Afternoon.” Tensions were high and the city felt like it was on the brink of institutional collapse.
Initially, in the case of the sporting goods store standoff, things were escalating quickly. A botched robbery had devolved into a gun fight that left an NYPD officer dead and nearly a dozen people held hostage. Yet, Schlossberg, using then-cutting-edge techniques, was able to establish a line of communication with the hostage-takers that led to their peaceful surrender. The standoff, stretching out over 47 hours, was the longest siege in the history of the department. Forbes said he was drawn to Schlossberg’s story because he was such an unlikely reformer.
“Harvey, this pacifist, 99-pound Jewish beat cop was able to go into an authoritarian, top-down paramilitary organization comprised largely of Irish white guys and effect change,” he says. “He was a man who was unafraid to cross barriers and to listen to people. He didn’t see people as the enemy. There’s a lot that can teach us in a fractured moment that we’re living through with the Jan. 6 riot and the problems we’re having with policing. The radical empathy he represented could be a model for this country.”
“Hold Your Fire” premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, where its distribution rights were for sale. Forbes says studios have been talking to him about not just releasing the film, but remaking it as a narrative feature.
Schlossberg would go on to have a long and distinguished career both as a police officer, and as a psychiatrist and academic. He coined the term “Stockholm Syndrome,” helped profile and catch the “Son of Sam” and provided a framework for hostage negotiation that still exists today. He died in May at the age of 85 before ever watching Forbes’ film, for which he was interviewed extensively.
“It’s tragic that he didn’t get to see it, but his spirit is alive in every frame,” says Forbes.