My annual film-by-film look at the documentaries of the Sundance Film Festival begins here with the first film of the 2015 US Documentary Competition: 3 1/2 MINUTES, Marc Silver’s exploration of a tragic, unnecessary, racially-motivated murder.
Sundance Program Description:
On Black Friday 2012, four middle-class African-American law-abiding teenagers stopped at a gas station to buy gum and cigarettes. One of them, Jordan Davis, argued with Michael Dunn, a white man parked beside them, over the volume of music playing in their car. The altercation turned to tragedy when Dunn fired 10 bullets at the unarmed boys, killing Davis almost instantly. The seamlessly constructed, riveting documentary film 3 1/2 MINUTES explores the danger and subjectivity of Florida’s Stand Your Ground self-defense laws by weaving Dunn’s trial with a chorus of citizen and pundit opinions, and with Jordan Davis’s parents’ wrenching experiences in and out of the courtroom.
While Jordan Davis, Trayvon Martin, and Michael Brown’s stories join a wretched, enduring cycle in the American social narrative, 3 1/2 MINUTES portrays Davis’s murder and its aftermath as anything but generic. Instead, the intimate camera particularizes each character as singular, as if to say: The more we see each other as human beings, the less inevitable will be violent outcomes from racial bias and disparate cultures colliding.
Marc Silver’s first documentary feature, WHO IS DAYANI CRISTAL?, debuted at Sundance in 2013, where it won the World Cinema Documentary award for best cinematography. The film’s producers are Motto Pictures’ Carolyn Hepburn, whose credits include Sundance alums GOD LOVES UGANDA (2013), MANHUNT (2013), GIDEON’S ARMY (2013), and WE ARE THE GIANT (2014); and Minette Nelson, who also runs the BCF Film Fund, which awards grants to social justice and environmentally-focused documentaries. Serving as executive producers are Sundance alums Orlando Bagwell (CITIZEN KING (2004)), Bonnie Cohen (WONDERS ARE MANY (2007)), Julie Goldman (most recent Sundance credits include the Motto Pictures titles above as well as fellow 2015 US Documentary Competition title BEST OF ENEMIES, AI WEIWEI: NEVER SORRY (2012), and A PLACE AT THE TABLE (2012)), and Participant Media’s Jeff Skoll and Diane Weyermann (whose numerous Sundance credits include HITRECORD ON TV (2014), NO (2013), A PLACE AT THE TABLE, WAITING FOR “SUPERMAN” (2010), CANE TOADS (2010), COUNTDOWN TO ZERO (2010), and CASINO JACK AND THE UNITED STATES OF MONEY (2010)).
Why You Should Watch:
As noted in the capsule above, Davis’ story unfortunately is not an aberration, but instead one in a long line of crimes against African American men that continue to generate outrage and underscore the need for a frank dialogue about race, bias, and injustice in American culture. Silver captures an emotional rawness, particularly through interviews with Davis’ parents, that humanize the young victim and tries to make sense of the perpetrator’s motivation, broadening the audience’s understanding beyond sensationalistic news bites about loud music and irrational invocations of Stand Your Ground laws.
While there’s no standalone website for the film yet, Silver’s site may be found here. Silver has already produced an Op-Doc about the Jordan Davis case for The New York Times. Check out Silver’s Sundance Meet the Artist interview and Indiewire filmmaker interview. For screening dates and times at Sundance, click the link in the first paragraph.
To experience the festival through the eyes of this year’s filmmakers, follow my Sundance filmmaker class of 2015 Twitter list.