Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Thu Aug 10, 2017 6:32 am 
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"This aint your daddy's civil rights movement" - Rapper Tef Poe.

Whose Streets?", about Ferguson, Missouri's demonstrations and their aftermaths, when unarmed African American teenager MIke Brown was gunned down on the street by cop Darren Wilson and left dead in the street untended for four hours, is by and about the young black activists involved and is designed as a record and inspiration for them and those who come after. It's not a neutral, unbiased film and does not seek to show the white side or the police side, or provide a cool, rounded picture of events as a national or international news agency might present it.

We learn Ferguson is a predominantly poor, black offshoot of St. Louis where (as eventually revealed by an investigation carried out under Attorney General Eric Holder) the citizens had for years been milked for funds repeatedly for minor infractions. The killing of Michael Brown was a breaking point for residents of St. Louis County, bringing out long held resentments.

There was violence by the protesters and simply their numbers remaining day after day on the streets - played up by the media to justify military and police intervention - but the whole experience of Ferguson is most notable for how it revealed the growing militarization of law enforcement in America : the multiple forces may have used $11 million worth of tear gas. They arrived in full riot gear with raging "K9 units" and backed by vehicles more appropriate for a theater of war. They carried machine guns and wielded tear gas, rubber bullets, and an astonishing variety and quantity of missiles and projectiles. In fact it has emerged that enormous cost overruns of military equipment are now sold to police departments all over the country. What vandalism and looting there was could hardly justify the overwhelming militaristic response.

But Folayan and Davis' documentary doesn't primarily focus on police, national guard, and other forces except to show their repeatedly assembled armies lining the streets against protesters. What they do is show the people, and many, many details of the events not covered in the news. Mainly, we follow local ordinary citizens, students, out of work young men, parents, teachers, artists and musicians whom we see develop growing political and revolutionary awareness, becoming self-declared fighters for justice, freedom, and democracy. Featured are Brittany Farrell , a young mother who puts college on hold to demonstrate, and her new gay lover, Alexis Templeton, met on the street as events unfolded. We see the two later marry, and Brittany will finish school and graduate. ("Did you cheer me?" she asks her little girl.) David Whitt is an outspoken young camera hobbyist who starts his own "Copwatch" unit to cover the rebellion and he is often followed by the film. Rapper Tef Poe is vocal on the streets and also at big indoor meeting where a tepid and overly Christian address by g NAACP leader Dr. Cornell Brooks is interrupted with a call to let the people speak an Poe takes the podium.

A kind of war of resistance grows up over the days, months, and years that follow. (The film's somewhat arbitrary chapters feature a quote from Franz Fanon.) While the slogan "Black Lives Matter" was born in 2013 after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in Florida of the murder of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, it was the prolongued events of Ferguson that jumpstarted slogan into de facto movement. That was only one of the cries at Ferguson, the first, locally grown, one being the unifying cry of, "Hands up, don't shoot!" But "Black Lives Matter" does have an overriding significance: it refers to the stream of white cop murders of unarmed blacks in a roll call that has grown in public awareness over the past four years. Black Lives Matter highlights the new outlook of this revolutionary African American generation, for they see their battle not as for civil rights, as in the past, so much as simply for their very lives.

Turbulent and lively in mood and burgeoning with continuous energy, Whose Streets? is by nature artisanal and incendiary. It samples a few public films like a court official reading the decision not to indict Darren Wilson or President Obama making statements about that decision or the earlier calling in of the state national guard, or a national TV interview with Wilson, but most of the footage is by the filmmakers or by the many participants. There is no explanation or analysis of events for outsiders. Notably lacking are illustrations of how the nation's and the world's newsmen flooded into Ferguson during the height of the demonstrations when summer temperatures on the street were hard to bear. The film doesn't provide talking head commentary either by journalists or others. There is also no investigation of the personality and life of Michael Brown (whom Darren Wilson described as appearing to him like a "demon"), his actions that day, or anything about his background. This is about Ferguson, the unrest, the spirit of rebellion, black rage, politicization and the collective spirit of the streets.

Many white people may be offended or upset by this film; perhaps also older African Americans or more bourgeois ones, the kind who would be offended by the vulgar language of the rap music that ends the film (though it is lively and hopeful).

This is writer-director Sabaah Folayan and co-director Damon Davis's feature film debut. It was produced by Jennifer MacArthur in association with her Borderline Media, shot by Lucas Alvarado-Farrar, edited by Christopher McNabb, and scored by jazz keyboardist Samora Abayomi Pinderhughes. It's dedicated to protesters Darren Seals, murdered in his car, and 20-year-old Josh Williams, jailed with an 8-year sentence as an "example" for arson.

Whose Streets?, 90 mins, debuted at Sundance 2017 and has been shown at another 18 festivals. It will be released by Magnolia 11 Aug. 2017, two days after the third anniversary of Michael Brown's death.

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