One of the timeliest and most relevant documentaries to premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, this week may just be 3 1/2 Minutes. That is the amount of time it took for Michael Dunn, a white man, to argue with and then shoot and kill Jordan Davis, an unarmed black teenager, in Florida on Nov. 23, 2012. The dispute started at a Jacksonville gas station when Dunn complained about the volume of music coming from the car Jordan was in with three friends.
Since their son was killed, Jordan’s parents, Ron Davis and Lucia McBath, have become activists and were at Sundance to help promote the documentary.
“The response from the audience, the applause, the love that they showed us, I just think this film will take off,” Ron Davis told The Root. “This film doesn’t show anyone as a villain; it just shows how complicated we are in America as far as race is concerned, as far as what we can do with a gun and the bias we have in us that we just don’t realize,” said Davis.
The film is built around footage of Dunn’s trial, in which he asserted that Jordan had a gun and Dunn invoked his “Stand your ground” right of self-defense. The trial is interspersed with interviews with family and friends of the 17-year-old victim. There are also photos and video of Jordan growing up and recordings of phone calls made by Dunn from jail. Director Marc Silver, who is British and won a Sundance cinematography award in 2013 for Who Is Dayani Cristal?, sees the story of Davis as a prime example of what many say is America’s unconfronted problem with race.
“The image of America being this post-racial society seems at odds with the kind of stories that we continuously hear about the dehumanization and criminalization of predominantly young black men and, in the case of our documentary, unarmed black men," Silver told The Root.
Silver said he was drawn to Davis’ story because he saw in those three-and-a-half minutes a perfect storm of racial profiling mixing with guns and the laws that embolden people to use those guns. “I recognize that even though we were telling the story of one person, it obviously spoke loudly and resonated widely to lots of other issues that were unfolding in the United States at that time,” said Silver.
It’s important to note that prosecutors did not charge Dunn with a hate crime. Dunn characterized the loud music coming from the SUV as "thug music." While some news outlets dubbed it the “loud music” killing, the court of public opinion saw it as a racial issue, something with which Davis’ mother agrees.
“People have to be made to really understand and realize the undercurrent of racism in this country and how it plays out. When you bring into the equation guns and fear, this is what you get,” Lucia McBath told The Root.
For her, sitting through the 98-minute documentary and watching her son’s life and death play out on-screen was not easy, but getting behind the film is. She says she hopes that the film will show people that they really need to look inside themselves when it comes to race. “The film, for me, is a means to really begin opening a large discussion about race, the gun culture, fear and the laws in this country,” said McBath. “I think there’s no way you can come away from seeing the film without having to do a heart check.”
Dunn’s first trial ended in a hung jury on the first-degree-murder charge, despite testimony from his girlfriend, who was in the car with him at the time, in which she said that she’d never heard him mention that he thought Davis had a gun. McBath said, “Based upon the racial climate in Florida, we didn’t expect to receive guilty verdicts on all counts.” The second trial ended with Dunn’s conviction on first-degree-murder charges. He’s now 48 years old and serving a life sentence.
Davis’ parents say that they will continue to promote the documentary, as well as advocate for change. McBath feels that with these types of incidents happening more often and not just in the black community, there will be change. “If we can use this film as a tool to get the conversation started to get people to mobilize for change, than we will have succeeded and had an impact on the nation,” she said.
The film will debut on HBO in late Fall 2015, preceded by a theatrical release. However, there is no exact date for when it hits movie theaters.