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Sundance doc tackles white-on-black deaths in US

26 january 2015, 15:59
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Photo courtesy of tvqc.com
Photo courtesy of tvqc.com

 The recent spate of white-on-black killings in the United States is only the tip of an iceberg all-too familiar to the African American community -- and something needs to be done about it, AFP reports.

That's the message behind "Three and a Half Minutes," a documentary that premiered at the Sundance Festival.

The movie tells the story behind the so-called "loud music" trial following the 2012 killing of 17-year-old Jordan Davis.

British director Marc Silver filmed the trial -- covered wall-to-wall by US and international media -- which eventually led to a life sentence for Davis's killer, 47-year-old Michael Dunn.

"We designed the film in the hope that it was one story of one family, but that these ideas would resonate with audiences because of the intimacy in the film," Silver told AFP in an interview.

The Florida teen was shot dead by Dunn at a gas station parking lot in Jacksonville, where Davis and three friends had stopped to buy cigarettes and gum on a night out.

   'Loud music' trial 

 The case was dubbed the "loud music" trial because of the altercation that led to the killing: Dunn took offense at the loud music coming from the friend's car.

The incident belongs to a litany of killings of African Americans in the United States in recent years.

Davis was killed only nine months after 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was shot dead by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman.

And there has been a surge of deaths more recently, several involving white policemen killing unarmed black youths, including last August's shooting of teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

A grand jury decision not to charge the officer in that case sparked days of sporadic violence in Ferguson and protests across the country.

There was also the case of Eric Garner, a 43-year-old father of six who died in July after a police chokehold that was caught on amateur video.

Davis's mother, Lucy McBath, said those cases were only the latest in a series of deaths that have gone unreported.

"There are so many cases that have these kinds of elements to them, that nobody outside of the minority community is talking about or wants to hear about," she told AFP.

"Now it is extending itself outside of the urban community through media."

   'Call to action' 

 McBath and Ron Davis, the teen's father, both want the law changed, notably to amend the "stand your ground" right, seen as crucial in both the Martin and Davis incidents.

"I think it should be amended," Ron Davis said, suggesting a "duty to retreat" provision to de-escalate confrontation. He also wants the "stand your ground" defense to be decided by juries instead of judges.

"The way they're written now, the gun laws, there are too many loopholes in them that allow people to shoot first and ask questions later," added Davis's mother.

Silver, 39, who won the Sundance cinematography award in 2013 for "Who is Dayani Cristal?" said not being American helped him handle the material.

"I think being British, or a so-called outsider, allows one maybe a wider perspective, and you are less defensive about some of the issues," he said, stressing that nationality was not fundamentally important in the film.

"What I'm interested in filmically is being as intimate as possible with the people that I'm filming, in the hope that that level of humanization allows the audience to empathize beyond nationality, race or religion."

Silver said he wanted the audience to become the jury, and aimed for an even-handed approach, which Davis's father complimented the British filmmaker on.

Above all, Ron Davis said he wants change.

"Instead of having this politician coming out saying 'We're going to have a conversation about it,' then another event happens, we need action," he said.

"I hope this film makes a call to action... that's what I want from this film, a call to action."


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