Three years ago this month, Michael Brown, an unarmed black man, was shot dead by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. His death prompted demonstrations, heavy-handed policing, violence and, eventually, national outcry.
Whose Streets?, from film-makers Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis, follows that arc as it unfolds, from the frontline of the protests to the behind-the-scenes of activists’ homes.
The documentary is released on 11 August – Brown was killed on 9 August 2014 – and offers a brutal assessment of the treatment of black people by police in America. Folayan, who grew up in Los Angeles, and Davis, who is from St Louis, spent more than a year on the ground in Ferguson.
“I wanted to go and bear witness,” Folayan told me. “My main agenda going in was really just to provide an outlet for people to tell their stories, for people to know that their stories were important, that their stories were valuable, that somebody was listening.”
The result is a strikingly intimate film. Whose Streets? debuted at Sundance in January, where it received rave reviews. The Guardian’s Jordan Hoffman gave the film five stars, praising an “outstanding and incendiary documentary” that “does a tremendous end run around mainstream news outlets”.
The depth of the relationships Folayan and Davis were able to establish with the people they met is immediately apparent. From scenes of nursing student and activist Brittany Ferrell interacting with her daughter, Kenna, to Copwatch videographer David Whitt trying to explain to his toddler son why he has to leave their home to go out and protest, the viewer is given a rare look at what activists’ lives are like away from the frontlines of protest.