The story of Brittany, who is an incredibly good shouter, and other Ferguson residents in the wake of the Michael Brown shooting. Somehow I got the impression from the description that this was assembled from cellphone footage shot by the participants, but no, it’s a proper doc with a camera crew and everything. Also the second T/F’17 movie we’ve seen to use the “say his name” song. I don’t like to use words like “powerful” when describing a movie, but it’s powerful, and makes you not want to hang around any cops for a while.
Tag: black lives
Step (2017, Amanda Lipitz)
We closed True/False fest with a crowd-pleaser (literally, there was spontaneous mid-film applause) about high school step-dance teammates in their senior year. Can they overcome poverty challenges at home, excel at their school work, get accepted into college and win the coveted state championship while growing as people and taking Black Lives Matter concepts to heart? Yes! Katy’s only reservation is that it’s an advertisement for charter schools at a time when they’re politically contentious. It’s far from the most structurally or artistically interesting movie we saw at the festival, but the girls are wonderful, and we were treated to a pre-film live dance and a post-film Q&A, which the excitable director beamed into via Skype. Enormously good vibes all around.
The same promo image everyone is using:
That wraps our True/False 2017.
13 Strings and a 2 Dollar Bill
Open Mike Eagle
Jesse and Forever
Very Be Careful (three times!)
Good Food and Drink (abridged):
Apples and sausage on a waffle at Cafe Berlin
Pierogies at Cafe Poland
Pizza and burrata at Midici
Excel wine-barrel saison, and Boss tacos at Craft Beer Cellar
Rock Bridge cinnamon imperial milk stout on cask at International Tap House
Double rye IPA and cold nachos (but good service) at Broadway Brewery
Pretzels and an array of belgian ales at Günter Hans
Cast Iron brown ale and a reuben at Uprise Bakery
Beet juice and a breakfast burrito at Main Squeeze
Quinoa Benedict and strange coffee at Nourish
Thai slice at Pizza Tree
Mushroom fries, taro chips and a spicy sour at Room 38
and a Lagunitas at Bier Station Kansas City (on the way)
Strong Island (2017, Yance Ford)
“You do not know your killer will make you out to be a monster. You do not realize that there will be no trial. You don’t know that 23 white people will decide no crime has even been committed.”
A mirror image to Did You Wonder Who Fired The Gun? This time it’s the family member of the murdered man telling the story, again speaking directly to the audience filled with regret and shame and rage, again with a black victim whose white killer doesn’t even go to trial. The tone of this one is pure anguish, told by the brother* of someone who was killed for no reason and will receive no justice, the family left behind in ruins.
*I’ve found Yance called both “he” and “she” online, and Katy and I found evidence of both within the film, but Yance’s self-written 2017 IMDB bio uses “he”.
Ford worked at PBS’s documentary showcase POV for a decade, viewing documentaries day in and out, while deciding how to tell his own family’s story. He ultimately came up with a visually distinct approach of direct address into the camera (sometimes speaking to the brother, sometimes to the audience), filmed photographs and lingering shots of the locations where events took place, in addition to the necessary usual elements (interviews and investigations).
Complications… mom is in a coma at the movie’s end. Yance feels guilty about the death, because he kept a secret about older brother William’s prior outburst at the garage where he would later be killed. There’s a section that was confusingly stuck at the end of the movie about William’s activity before his death, losing weight to apply for work and testifying about a crime he’d helped bring to justice. Yance doesn’t know what the killer looks like, saying he looks like all white people, that he sees the killer everywhere, a statement that bounced hauntingly around the church full of white faces where we sat. It had been chilly for the first couple days of the True/False fest, and during the closing credits we walked out into the warm late morning sun and it felt like another world.
It’s actually on the level of style that Ford tinkers most provocatively with the first-person template. While there’s a rawness of feeling to much of what’s expressed in the film, it’s complicated by the overtly cinematic visual approach taken by Ford and DP Alan Jacobsen. Even that opening phone call—exceedingly common and banal as documentary actions go—is aggressively lit and framed. The strategy doesn’t convey fictionalization so much as intense reflection. Footage here isn’t happened upon, it isn’t automatic or diaristic, but rather deeply, perhaps obsessively deliberated—sincerely captured after decades of traumatized anticipation. Ford’s verbal address also toggles between seemingly rehearsed and spontaneous, complexly underscoring his sincerity. Do you really think someone who’s had a quarter-century to think and feel through such a life-altering trauma could ever be either fully in the emotional moment or, conversely, fully in control of these emotions? Somewhere between first-person and third-person, showing and telling, recording and expressing, is where these personal truths reside.
Did You Wonder Who Fired The Gun? (2017, Travis Wilkerson)
Travis, an ace photographer and committed activist, explores his own sordid family history, which only gets more shameful as he goes on, trying to atone for the crimes of his heritage by at least bringing them to light. Travis was in the room, reading live narration and triggering clips, making the experience more interesting and confrontational. His research leads him through some truly fiction-sounding scenarios – he’s told to quit searching and is chased out of town, and eventually digs up multiple rapes and another murder. This one has been written up extensively, and more elegantly than I can manage.
A. Taubin from Sundance:
Set in the deep South, in the small town of Dothan, Alabama, where S.E. Branch, a white supremacist and Wilkerson’s great-grandfather, shot and killed a black man named Bill Spann in Branch’s grocery store. Branch was charged with murder, but the case never went to trial and he suffered no consequences … How is it that some people escape the racism and misogyny in which they are raised (Branch abused his wife and daughters and likely killed more than one black man) and some cling to it as their reason for existence? Wilkerson doesn’t offer an answer. But raising the question — at this moment when families are torn apart by what they believe America is and should be — is more than enough.
What he found, and what we watch and listen to him deliberate upon, was not news of a single murder, but an entire history of racism and brutal violence against the local black community. Branch, he discovers, was an outspoken bigot linked to multiple instances of violence and abuse against black men and women. With only a pair of vague news clippings and Spann’s death certificate as evidence, Wilkerson proceeded to trace the entwined fates of the Branch and Spann families … The futility of this quest is the crux of the film and the aspect of the project that most plagues Wilkerson, whose narration is in a constant state of second-guessing, self-indictment, and flat-out shame at the extent of the atrocities … When, in the course of his research, Wilkerson discovers that his mother’s sister is a practising white supremacist, the film takes on an increasingly disturbing urgency.
Wilkerson isn’t being disingenuous in his emotions or approach, but some of the moves on display feel too forced to be truly effective, especially when they’re juxtaposed next to others that are above board. This is the one film I feel most conflicted about. On one hand, I’m not sure I should judge an individual’s personal, politically motivated expression, but on the other hand, I can’t lie and say that there weren’t times when it made me feel uncomfortable outside the scope of Wilkerson’s perceived intentions. With that being said, Did You Wonder Who Fired the Gun? was one of the very best things I saw at the festival precisely because it got under my skin.