2017 Sundance Docs in Focus: STRONG ISLAND

strong islandSTRONG ISLAND
Yance Ford interrogates the 1992 murder of his brother, which went unprosecuted, and its personal aftermath.

Festival Section:
US Documentary Competition

Sundance Program Description:

In 1992, filmmaker Yance Ford’s brother William was shot and killed by a 19-year-old white mechanic after a common complaint about a car repair spiraled violently out of control. The mechanic claimed he fired in self-defense, and though William was unarmed, he quickly became the prime suspect in his own death. When an all-white grand jury set the shooter free, Yance’s family retreated into a silent fury. Twenty years later, STRONG ISLAND invents a startling cinematic language to penetrate this devastating collision of paralysis, grief, fear, racism, and injustice.

As much as it is an outward-facing investigation of William’s case, this film is a radically intimate, lovingly layered inquiry into the emotional valences and internal geometries of the Ford family and their loss. Exacting aesthetic choices transport us directly into Yance and his mother’s subjective experience, acknowledging the painful reality that some things will always be elusive and unknowable. STRONG ISLAND dismantles and reimagines the wreckage left in the wake of William’s murder, bringing us as close as art can come to the blistering truth.

Some Background:

  • Yance Ford
    This is Ford’s directorial debut after previously serving as a series producer on POV. The film has been supported by the Sundance Institute’s Documentary Film Program and the MacArthur Foundation, among several other funders.



  • Signe Byrge Sørensen
    Final Cut for Real’s Sørensen notably previously produced the Oscar-nominated THE ACT OF KILLING and THE LOOK OF SILENCE. She also co-produces Sundance 2017 World Cinema Narrative entry THE NILE HILTON INCIDENT.

Executive Producers:

  • Danny Glover
    Past Sundance docs:


    The acclaimed actor produces under his Louverture Films banner, for which he is Co-Founder and CEO.

  • Susan Rockefeller
    Past Sundance docs:


    Rockefeller is an entrepreneur, filmmaker, and philanthropist.

  • Michel Merkt
    The prolific Monaco based producer is behind such recent narratives as TONI ERDMANN, ELLE, and AQUARIUS, as well as the 2017 Sundance Kids title MY LIFE AS A ZUCCHINI. This is his first Sundance credit.

  • Laura Poitras
    Past Sundance docs:

    SPEAKING IS DIFFICULT (short) (2016)
    PEACE IN THE VALLEY (short) (2016)
    THE OATH (2010, director)

    The Academy Award winner for CITIZENFOUR also directed a new short at the festival this year, PROJECT X.


  • Janus Billeskov Jansen
    Past Sundance docs:

    PUTIN’S KISS (2012)
    BURMA VJ (2009)
    GARDEN (2004)
    THE PURIFIED (2003)

Why You Should Watch:
Ford’s carefully composed and starkly personal film simmers with a quiet anger as it dissects the impact of William’s death on a hitherto sheltered middle-class African-American family. That this powerful film remains timely nearly 25 years after the murder is a searing indictment of the persistence of racial biases in American society and in its criminal justice system.

More Info:
Meet the Artist

For Sundance screening dates and times, click the film title in the first paragraph.

To experience the festival through the eyes of this year’s filmmakers, follow my Sundance 2017 Twitter list.

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Filed under Documentary, Film, Film Festivals, Recommendations, Sundance

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