The Sundance Film Festival kicked off on the eve of Donald Trump’s inauguration. The event’s line-up carries a strong message of resistance against the impending erosion of human rights and freedoms that his government could represent. Whose Streets? – an energetic documentary by the activist and filmmaker Sabaah Folayan – shows the inconvenient truth behind the dramatic scenes that took place in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014. An African American unarmed teenager, Michael Brown, was killed by police and left lying on the street for hours, despite the many witnesses and a CCTV camera just around the the corner.
Festival founder and chairman Robert Redford claimed at the opening of the event: “Documentaries become more important when journalism on TV is not showing what is going on for real”, and Whose Streets? is the genuine expression. The crew flew to St. Louis and Ferguson in order to register the uprising of the local population, mostly Blacks and poor people. Whilst national broadcasting companies such as CNN spread images of horror, including the ransacking of supermarkets, Folayan went to talk to the locals. They soon found out that rioting and protesting “is the language of the unheard”.
The Black vigilantes decide to become their own keepers, since the police was not doing their work, and often disrespecting the Constitution. The protests include riots, arson and speaking up words of anger in front of troops armed with tear gas grenades, guns and sniffing dogs. The situation got worse when the memorial for Michael Brown was destroyed to free the streets for the traffic, as the flowers were in the middle of the road. Governor of Missouri, Jay Nixon, said it was a “corporate decision”. The uprising became the reawakening of the Civil Rights Movement. It exposed a racial bias in Ferguson police department: the white police officer Darren Wilson who shot Michael Brown was declared not guilty, in a case with consequences remarkably similar to Stephen Lawrence’s murder in the UK.
The documentary is frenetic and tense. The close shots of people give the sensation you are standing right by their side, protesting on the streets, and vulnerable to the violence surrounding them. You can feel that they are fighting not only for their rights, but also for their lives.
It is moving that the demonstrations attracted all sorts people: men, women and children. Parents brought their children to the streets, despite the fear of violence, in order to teach them how to be activists. There is hope that there will be more justice and equity for Black people in the future. They established the now influential organisation Black Lives Matter. It aims to rebuild the Black Liberation Movement more inclusive of women, LGBT people and people everywhere in the gender spectrum.
Whose Streets? is in the US documentary section of the Sundance Festival Film Festival taking place right now – DMovies is live at the event. You can access the official film website by clicking here. The movie is currently seeking distributors.