It’s not a label he sought out, but somewhere along the line Marc Silver has become known as a maker of message movies. The British director who got his start as a documentarian making late-night films for Britain’s Channel 4 has tackled controversial, political and social themes. With his latest film, “31/2 Minutes, Ten Bullets,” he explores the danger and subjectivity of Florida’s Stand Your Ground self-defense laws. A law that makes it easier for people to claim self-defense if they have a reasonable belief that their lives are threatened.
3 ½ MINUTES, TEN BULLETS director Marc Silver
Through interviews and courtroom footage, the documentary shares the true story of an unarmed black teenager in Florida who was shot to death during a dispute over loud music. The shooting took place at a gas station in Jacksonville, Fla., the day after Thanksgiving in 2012 after Michael Dunn had complained about the loud hip-hop music being played in Jordan Davis’s friend’s car at the gas pump. It’s an altercation that turned to tragedy when Dunn fired 10 bullets at the unarmed boys, killing Davis almost instantly.
“I was lucky enough to be invited to meet Jordan’s parents a couple of weeks before the George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin verdict about two years ago,” shares Silver, who Trendy Africa’s Samantha Ofole-Prince met with at the offices of Participant Media in Beverly Hills, Calif. “And I started to think about the three and a half minutes these cars were next to each other in the gas station and what they came to represent. At that time, I was looking at this idea that in that tiny amount of time you could look at racial profiling, access to guns and these laws that give you the confidence to use those guns. As time unfolded, the Ferguson riots happened and many other cases since then and that’s when it started speaking back to us differently. The three and a half minutes became a metaphor for all of these other cases that subsequently happened.”
The shooting of an unarmed African American teenager—is an all-too- familiar scenario and while Jordan Davis, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Walter Scott and Freddy Gray’s stories join a wretched, enduring cycle in the American social narrative, Silver portrays Davis’s murder and its aftermath and shows how insidious racism can be. “Race was never allowed to be discussed in the courtroom,” continues Silver. “Michael Dunn wasn’t apparently racist during the shooting because no witnesses heard him say anything that was racist.”
Fashioning a fascinating narrative from TV news footage, courtroom hearings and candid interviews, the film deftly examines the aftermath of this systemic tragedy, the contradictions within the American criminal justice system. “You get invited to question your own bias. In this particular case, it manifested itself in that three and a half minutes and you have to sit there and listen to the evidence and make your own decisions about how and why a man like Michael Dunn actually sees the world in the way he does. There was never anything I heard that he gives any impression that he is regretful,” continues Silver.
“He was convinced he did the right thing by shooting Jordan. I have no doubt there are many people who see black men as he sees black men. This perception is based on a combination of ignorance, stereotyping and bias, which ultimately is dehumanizing. I think it is fear. It’s a fear that is constructed and perpetuated by the mass media, in their representation of black men. He is almost a metaphor for a part of America that is also naive and blind to its own racism. That is the ultimate thing the film is about.” Shrewdly edited for maximum emotional impact, it’s a stirring doc that won a Special Jury Award for Social Impact at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival and the Audience Award for Best Documentary at the RiverRun Film Festival.
Samantha Ofole-Prince is an entertainment industry specialist and contributes to Trendy Africa Magazine from Los Angeles. photos courtesy of Participant Media