Whose Streets?, a film by first-time documentarians Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis, is clearly a passion project. It isn’t interested in presenting a balanced, journalistic account of the killing of Michael Brown, Jr. by police during a routine encounter in Ferguson, Missouri. There are no interviews with law enforcement, no account of the events that led up to the deadly encounter. Instead, the documentary provides a “boots on the ground” view of the events as they unfold.
Dozens of first-hand videos have been assembled to show the immediate aftermath of the incident, the organized protests that followed, the police crackdown on those protests and the resulting riots. The film intends to educate the viewer, providing the pieces of the puzzle that were omitted by the mainstream media. The film assumes that, once that information is provided, a rational individual could reach only one conclusion. Bearing in mind that one person’s “education” is another person’s indoctrination, the effectiveness of Whose Streets? as a documentary may be a subject of debate among movie-goers. The fact that it will provoke such a conversation makes it essential viewing.
Whose Streets? takes both a macro and micro-scale look at local activism. The film documents the efforts of large crowds of marching protesters as well as the personal toll that political activism can take on individuals who risk their safety and freedom to stand up for a cause. In the process, Whose Streets? provides damning evidence of how ineffective and downright dangerous it can be to police a civilian populace using military tactics and equipment. It’s horrifying to watch as unarmed protesters are confronted by officers decked out in body armor and gas masks while tanks and other armored vehicles roll through the streets of their cities. It looks like a scene from a Middle East war zone, not from the heartland of America.
The film also provides a fascinating look at how social media has changed the 21st century landscape. Videos are shot and uploaded to various platforms in real time. Hashtags are created by citizens on the streets of Ferguson and then used to provide journalistic accounts of the on-going struggle. If the mainstream media won’t fulfill their role as government watchdogs, the average citizen can now take their place. We all carry enough technology in our pocket to document an event and distribute the evidence to the world.
Some critics refer to films as “a good sit”, meaning the movie serves its purpose as a piece of entertainment; it’s a fun night at the theater. Whose Streets? is disturbing, unnerving. It doesn’t make for an escapist night at your local multiplex. But, it’s a story that needs to be told. I wouldn’t characterize the film as a good sit, but it’s an important one.
Whose Streets? opens in theaters nationwide on Friday, August 11, 2017.
The Movie Isle
Scott Phillips holds a degree in print journalism from the University of Georgia and is currently a member of the Georgia Film Critics Association (GAFCA). In addition to his role as a correspondent for Timed Edition, Scott serves as the Executive Editor and Senior Writer for themovieisle.com. From 2013 through 2017, he reviewed films for filmdispenser.com. Along with his duties as a critic, Scott serves as the Content Programmer for the Way Down Film Festival held in Columbus, Georgia every fall.