‘3 ½ minutes’ captures ‘perfect storm of racism’
January 20, 2015
When 17-year-old Jordan Davis was shot to death at a Florida gas station in November of 2012, his death resonated with London-based director Marc Silver.
The shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white male represented what Silver referred to as an "incredible perfect storm of racism" and was a story that he wanted to capture.
"Once I realized that within a micro-moment two lives collided, I thought that it was a great opportunity for a film," he said in a telephone interview with The Park Record from the United Kingdom. "Even though it was a very small story, the implications are very large."
The documentary "3 ½ minutes" follows the trial of Michael Dunn, who was accused of firing 10 bullets at a car full of unarmed teenagers, while integrating footage of Davis’ parents as they deal with the loss of their son, along with interviews with the victim’s friends and family.
The film’s premiere follows in the wake of similar racially charged trials surrounding the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.
"What became challenging was still keeping this film about this one case and this one family and not getting carried away and drawn into what was going on around the country," Silver said.
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"It deals with the access to guns and the laws that give people the confidence to be able to use these guns, knowing they might be immune to prosecution," he added.
The film explores the evolution of Dunn’s character from someone who hadn’t fired a gun in nearly 20 years, to someone who made a split-second decision that dramatically changed his life.
"We tried to cross-film in a way that Michael wasn’t the killer and wasn’t seen as the devil," Silver said. "From the onset, you as an audience are in a similar position to the jury."
The film’s narrative plays out in a way that allows the audience to empathize with Dunn.
not waving a finger at an audience and telling them to change, but by enabling the audience to see themselves as a character in the film is "a wiser way of inspiring change," Silver said.
"We didn’t front-load the film with any loaded information," he said. "We tried to crop the film in a way that a white audience would be able to look at Michael Dunn and see themselves and even admit that they too might have judged him, which might have solicited a reaction of fear. That is not to say everyone would have grabbed a gun and shot someone, though."
One of the interesting aspects of documenting a film about an event presumably born of racism, Silver said, was that, in the courtroom everyone tiptoed around the race issue because witnesses did not report hearing any racist language during the confrontation.
"We would spend eight hours a day in the courtroom and it was never mentioned," he said. "But when you stepped outside, there would be protesters who absolutely understood the whole case was about race.
"It became a metaphor for the film at large in exploring the juxtaposition of what was going on in the courtroom versus outside," Silver added. "It came to us as claims of a post-racial society in the courtroom and the blatant reality on the street that it isn’t."
"3 ½ minutes" is the 39-year-old director’s second feature documentary to appear at the Sundance Film Festival. His film "Who is Dayani Cristal?" premiered in 2013.
"3 ½ minutes" is being screened in the Sundance Film Festival’s Documentary Competition Category. It will be shown:
Saturday, Jan. 24, 6 p.m. at the Temple Theatre
Sunday, Jan. 25, 9 a.m. at the Temple Theatre
Monday, Jan. 26, 6 p.m. at the Broadway Centre Cinema 6 in Salt Lake City
Thursday, Jan. 29, 10 p.m. at the Holiday Village Cinema 4
Saturday, Jan. 31, 11:30 a.m. at the Library Center Theatre