On the front line in Mis­souri

Los Angeles Times - - AT THE MOVIES - — Sheri Lin­den

Three years ago, Michael Brown, 18, black and un­armed, was shot dead by a po­lice of­fi­cer in Ferguson, Mo., only weeks af­ter Eric Garner’s death by choke­hold in New York. While Brown’s body lay in the street, friends and neigh­bors rose up in grief and out­rage, and a 21st-cen­tury civil rights move­ment came into ur­gent fo­cus.

Film­mak­ers Sabaah Fo­layan and Da­mon Davis were among those on the front lines of the protests against po­lice vi­o­lence, and their on-the-ground, fromthe-heart doc­u­men­tary “Whose Streets?” com­mu­ni­cates that ur­gency from the in­side out — not as news story or so­cial the­ory but as com­mu­nal ex­pe­ri­ence and awak­en­ing.

Ac­tivists as well as artists, Fo­layan and her co-di­rec­tor aren’t in­ter­ested in pars­ing the con­flict­ing re­ports about the shoot­ing or ex­plain­ing the com­mu­nity’s re­sponse via cap­sule his­tory les­son, à la Kathryn Bigelow’s “Detroit.” Jump­ing straight into the chaos and horror — “I just saw some­one die,” an eye­wit­ness tweets — their film insists that the only nec­es­sary con­text is the events them­selves.

Us­ing cell­phone videos and their own videos, Fo­layan and Davis re­veal a neigh­bor­hood un­der mil­i­tary-style oc­cu­pa­tion. Can­dle­light vig­ils are met with tanks, rub­ber bul­lets and tear­gas. The Na­tional Guard is de­ployed.

The film might have tied things to­gether more point­edly — ac­tivist Kayla Reed dis­cusses the ab­sur­dity of valu­ing a build­ing over a life, yet the film­mak­ers as­sume the au­di­ence knows that while Brown’s white killer, Dar­ren Wil­son, served no time while black pro­tester Josh Wil­liams was sen­tenced to eight years for set­ting a fire in a con­ve­nience store — but its heart-wrung po­tency is un­de­ni­able. That’s true whether the di­rec­tors are star­ing down sys­temic ne­glect or swept up in the vi­sion­ary op­ti­mism of the young grass­roots lead­ers who emerge from Ferguson’s smoke and rub­ble, putting them­selves on the line with acts of civil dis­obe­di­ence and coun­ter­surveil­lance.

The whole world may have been watch­ing Ferguson burn, but “Whose Streets?” looks be­yond the me­dia nar­ra­tive to of­fer what Davis has called “black peo­ple see­ing black peo­ple” — val­i­da­tion, en­cour­age­ment and love in the face of a bit­ter legacy of in­jus­tice.

“Whose Streets?” Rating: R, for lan­guage through­out. Run­ning time: 1 hour, 41 min­utes. Play­ing: In se­lect the­aters.

Au­tumn Lin Pho­tog­ra­phy

AC­TIVIST Brit­tany Fer­rell and oth­ers protest po­lice vi­o­lence in “Whose Streets?,” which doc­u­ments a com­mu­nal awak­en­ing af­ter the Mis­souri shoot­ing.

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