Subject-oriented documentaries hardly ever pay a lot consideration to aesthetics, so it’s invigorating, in an odd approach, to see one which marries spectacular type to so-so content material. Yance Ford spent a few years because the producer of PBS’ acclaimed doc collection POV, and has probably seen as a lot nonfiction filmmaking as anybody alive. He’s educated sufficient to keep away from cliché, cognizant sufficient of the principles to interrupt them with function. Sturdy Island, his directorial debut, achieves a placing look by way of remarkably easy means. When Ford addresses the digital camera straight, for instance, he shoots himself in barely discomfiting closeup (i.e., too shut), his face shrouded in darkness, talking in a tone that’s directly measured and confrontational. The impact is stark, expressionistic, and highly effective. It creates the sense that what’s being mentioned is essential.
Is it essential? Sure and no. Sturdy Island is a really private movie for Ford, years within the making. It’s about his older brother, William, who was shot and killed in 1992, on the age of 24. The circumstances of William’s loss of life are depressingly acquainted: Indignant mechanic who’d hit his automotive hadn’t but made the promised repairs, William hurled some harsh phrases on the man, adopted him into the storage to pursue the argument, and took a number of bullets to the chest. Although William was unarmed, a grand jury determined that the shooter had affordable trigger to consider that he was in peril, and declined to indict. One of many two people concerned within the incident was white, and certainly one of them was black. Care to guess which was which?
Even to recommend that this might need been something apart from a blatant miscarriage of justice dangers inflicting extra emotional injury on Ford and his household. Nonetheless, it should be mentioned that Sturdy Island doesn’t current an ironclad case for William’s innocence, which is introduced as a given. One would possibly definitely err on the facet of assuming that there was no legitimate motive for the mechanic to shoot him, given America’s lengthy and horrific historical past of violence towards individuals of colour. The info of this explicit case, nevertheless, as outlined within the movie, are inconclusive. William was advancing towards the shooter in what everybody current agrees was excessive anger (the precise capturing befell out of view, round a nook from witnesses), and he’d thrown a vacuum cleaner throughout the storage in a earlier altercation. The unique investigator—who comes throughout as sort and extremely sympathetic to Ford’s trigger—opinions the proof, all these years later, and tells Ford that he thinks the grand jury’s determination to not indict was appropriate. Most affordable viewers will probably disagree, and conclude (albeit based mostly on restricted data) that the case ought to at the least have gone to trial. Nonetheless, there should be a whole lot, even 1000’s of comparable shootings through which there’s little to little question that somebody bought away with homicide due to systemic and ingrained racism.
In fact, none of these hypothetical victims are Yance Ford’s brother. Sturdy Island’s elementary weak point is the generic nature of its crime and subsequent lack of punishment; even have been the loss of life of William Ford Jr. as slam-dunk wrongful as Yance and his mom consider, this story in all probability wouldn’t have attracted the curiosity of another documentary filmmaker, just because there’s little about it that’s uncommon or distinctive. Its ubiquity is its unhappy legacy. What’s invaluable right here, along with Ford’s visible mastery, is the wealth of context that he supplies. The movie’s title is a nickname for Lengthy Island, the place the Ford household lived, and nothing concerning the capturing itself hits practically as arduous as does Ford’s quietly furious recollection of how absolutely segregated neighborhoods got here to exist facet by facet in middle-class New York suburbia, creating outlined secure zones from which it was harmful for black residents to stray. There’s ample expertise and passionate conviction right here to gas an excellent documentary, and little doubt that Ford (who largely declines to deal with his personal story—he recognized as feminine on the time of William’s loss of life, transitioning afterward) might make one. If Sturdy Island doesn’t fairly qualify, effectively, it’s arduous to fault him for selecting an preliminary topic so close to and expensive to his coronary heart.