Aspen Filmfest: ‘Whose Streets?’
October 5, 2017
You've seen and read the news reports, you've listened to the politicians and the commentators, but you haven't seen the citizen uprising in Ferguson, Missouri from the street-level view of the documentary "Whose Streets?"
This raw and vital new film, by Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis, screens Saturday at Aspen Filmfest.
Told from the viewpoint of neighbors and citizens turned activists, the film brings viewers into Ferguson in the moments following the murder of Michael Brown in August 2014. It documents the immediate protests and the movement that grew out of the community's outrage over another young, unarmed black man being shot in the street by police. Bringing viewers to the front lines of what one activist calls "an unseen war" between police and citizens, it shows the emergence of social justice leaders and follows them through the riots, the protests, the tear gas, through the grand jury's decision not to prosecute the officer who killed Brown and a year beyond that as locals fight for systemic change.
There's no narration in "Whose Streets?" and no objective commentary of the events — only raw footage and eyewitness accounts from the people with boots on the ground.
It shows Michael Brown's mother sobbing as the grand jury decision is read and the anguish of a neighbor as the memorial to Brown is dismantled. And it repeatedly shows scenes of white police and national guardsmen in riot gear and in tanks clashing with black protesters.
"We're trying to mourn, and you came here with 300 cop cars and riot gear and K-9 units," Ashley, a Ferguson activist, yells at police as they break up a vigil for Brown. "This is pretty much the same thing that got us here."
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It's a disturbing and necessary film that, through its protester point of view, brings the chaos and passion of the movement to the big screen.
During a community gathering at the Chaefetz Arena in St. Louis, the crowd shouts down an NAACP leader and calls to hear from the emergent civil rights leaders instead, yelling "Let the young people speak" and chanting "This is what democracy looks like."
The film profiles a handful of activists like Brittany Ferrell who brings her six-year-old to protests, and it deftly characterizes how those on the front lines are balancing family, professional and personal lives with the cause while preparing children for the fight.
"It was my opportunity to educate her on how things have never been right for black folks in America," Ferrell says in the film as she gets her daughter ready for school. "This is just another example of that. And this is something we have to do."
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