Reviews of my Favorite Documentaries from the Full Frame Film Festival

Full Frame Film Festival is a wonderful opportunity to view films that have yet to be released to the world in full and to meet the directors and sometimes actors of the films. I saw so many films at the festival that I loved and met so many directors that were eager to talk to me about their films. They were also friendly and willing to offer advice about their journey into filmmaking and how they navigate in the industry. I learned so much and gained many new contacts while at the festival. During conversation with a few fellows from other schools and attendees to the festival, we talked about the importance of perspective when it comes to telling stories through film. Who should tell what story and what effect it has on the audience like how it may shape their thoughts on the film’s subject matter when a group or individual tells a story about a group he/she is not a part of and does not have a true, personal perspective of. Below I will share info about three films I enjoyed and speak on the perspective the films were told from and how that affected me as a viewer.

Strong Island
This film was about a young Black man who was shot in the chest and killed in 1992 in New York by a white mechanic. The mechanic goes unpunished and the film documents the grief and outrage felt by the family after losing someone near and dear to their hearts. The young black man that loss his life is William Ford and the film is told from the perspective of his family. His sister Yance Ford made this film and is featured in the film as well as her sister, mother, and friends of the family. Yance also took it upon herself to get the perspectives of legal officials involved with the case to add into the film.

I loved this film because of the way the stories were told using family/friend photos, intimate interviews, and the raw emotion because of the loss of their family member and the injustice suffered. Yance Ford made a point during the Q&A that it was her moral obligation to make the film after someone called her brave for doing so. This story is the same story that so many other Black families suffered through in history and continue to suffer through in the present.

The perspective that this story was told from had a major effect on me as a viewer. The family, friends, and even legal officials who had a voice in the film, helped shaped the perspective of who William Ford was before his life was taken in vain. It shows who his family was and what he meant to them and how much they meant to him. He was educated, gentle, protective, and someone’s son, friend and brother. He was not a criminal and had never been in any legal trouble prior to the events that led up to his murder. If someone outside of his family and friends had a desire to tell this same story, they could attempt to but it would not have the same effect on me and I believe it would lack intimacy and the quality that is has coming from the perspective that it does even if the filmmakers worked with the same individuals that Yance did. There’s a level of trust that the people involved have one another that could help achieve the honesty and authenticity of the interviews she has in her film. She, her family, and William’s friends who are also like family to her, NEEDED to tell this story. It’s heavy subject-matter and it hits home as Black individual with a brother who could be taken out the same way William and so many others any day now but stories like these must be told to make others aware and hopefully shift the narrative of criminality forced upon black boys and men in America. Video of Q&A commentary from Yance Ford and family friend Harvey

Yance Ford and family friend Harvey

Tell Them We Are Rising
This film was about and documents the history of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and the necessity of the institutions to society. The history is told through the eyes of current and past students, educators as well as historians. I loved this film for several reasons to include that I attended an HBCU and I know the history of them. I attended and graduated from North Carolina Central University for my 4-year undergraduate career and my grandmother attended the exact same university in the 1960s. The film documents the things black students faced overtime as black colleges started to grow and more of them formed. Among those things were racism and discrimination by white individuals so they protested for their rights until they were granted.

My grandmother was one of those people who faced such obstacles and participated in protests in downtown Durham, North Carolina with her classmates at restaurants, department stores, and other local businesses to demand equality. Black people were not always welcome at predominately white establishments or colleges, so this why things like HBCUs were created and exists today. Some may say, well now, Black people can attend any college they wish so there is no need for HBCUs but that statement is false. If I had never attended an HBCU, I would have never been educated so deeply on my history as a Black person and I wouldn’t have tapped into my own family history that I was unaware of prior to attending NCCU. I added on a major of History while attending NCCU for these reasons, among others, and graduated with two degrees in the time it takes to graduate with one. My professors encouraged me to do so and took the time to nurture me and ensure that I left the campus greater and more educated than I came and I believe that is something unique to HBCUs. There is a huge amount of direct support and concern for your future, no matter how many students your professors have.

The director, Stanley Nelson, did an amazing job using archival footage and photos of HBCUs and of being inclusive and telling a major and vast history in 85 minutes. Telling the story from the perspective of the individuals who attended these universities make the story more authentic and the impact of the message is greater because the information is straight from the source. Also, having historians to back up those personal accounts of the things like the protests and the history of the schools added credibility to the film. It was wonderfully done and I enjoyed every minute of it. I hope that people who are unaware of why HBCUs exist or that they even do exist and have such a rich history, gets the chance to see this film and learns from and possibly becomes an advocate for their continuation into the future at all costs.

-Q&A with Producers Marco Williams, Cyndee Readdean, and Stacey L. Holman

The Force  
This film is a profile of the Oakland Police Department and its newly appointed chief during a time when the department was facing federal demands for the reform of the force. The force needed to reform and rebuild trust with the community but the film documents a lack of trust by sharing the perspective of the community alongside that of the police force. Using the community’s perspective while telling the story from the inside of the police force was a great decision that had a powerful impact of me as a viewer. The stories of groups like “Black Lives Matter” groups and others are often skewed and shown in a negative light. This film doesn’t specifically mention groups like that but it does show protests for the lives of Black individuals that loss their lives during that time and before, at the hands of the Oakland police force and shows the community meeting where concerned members discussed these issues in the hopes of helping to make a change for the future.

There are not any films that I have seen recently or ever that give voice to police officers and what they go through in efforts to protect people. Using great shots from inside the urban community as well as shots from inside the police training and their graduation from police academy was powerful and some of my favorite things about the film. The message I received from this film was that the department was corrupt during the time the film took place and before which is why they were under federal watch in the beginning. It was important that the story was told from the inside of the force because no one can look at it or should look at it and say, the police were wrongly represented or that they never got the chance to tell their sides of the story when it comes to bad cops, good cops, and police brutality and killings. I loved this film because it still exposed the reality that there are good cops but alongside them are corrupt individuals with their own personal agendas who wear the same uniform.

If the filmmaker, Peter Nicks, had decided to tell the story using only members of the community and shining light on the Oakland police force from the outside, the impact of the message would not have been as great and the film would have probably been watched a lot less. For example, this film could have been entitled Black Lives Matter because the message for that was there regardless of what was specifically stated in the film but people would have likely shunned the film before or without ever watching it. With it bearing its real title and telling the story from the inside of the police force and including the perspective of the community alongside it, we get the story from all sides and this was the best and most powerful decision that I think ensured the success of the film.

-AU and NCCU student fellows with Director Peter Nicks
In closing, I believe that there is great importance in the choice of who's perspective films are told from due to how they may or may not shape the viewer’s thoughts about certain things and/or groups of people. It is best that we as groups and individuals have a voice and choice to tell our own stories. I do believe that all people can be creative and come up with amazing for films about other groups of people and that they should have a right to move in the direction of bring their ideas to life through film. What is most important once this happens is that there are representatives of the groups that become integral parts of the creative process when creating these films. Some groups may feel that they are giving voice to groups that do not have one but the voice is not given when a person or people outside of these individuals come in and attempt to tell a story that they themselves have never personally experienced or cannot personally relate to and account. If giving a voice is what a filmmaker wishes to do or bring light to things that are not usually focused on or seen in society, they must do that. They must go to these communities of people and learn who they are inside and out, tell them their ideas and the story they wish to tell and get the members of that community to help them do so and do so from their perspective in order to successfully and accurately tell these stories. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Full Frame Film Festival as a Fellow from AU and my time there last year as a fellow from NCCU and look forward to submitting my films to the same festival one day and sharing how great the festival is with my peers in the future.  

-AU student fellows

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