A young man from Toronto entangles himself in one of America’s most high-profile police shootings.
Director: Rich Williamson
Producer: Shasha Nakhai
I was working full-time editing another documentary last April when I received a call from Dan, who is an old friend from our film school days.
It was very clear from the beginning that he felt uncomfortable with the situation that he had found himself in.
After his stabilization went viral on Reddit, he felt somewhat guilty for helping push out the narrative of Slager having planted evidence, and took it upon himself to stabilize the remainder of the video for the most complete and nuanced understanding of what happened.
I asked him if I could bring a camera over to act as a video diary of the progress. He was concerned he may be having his ‘Beautiful Mind’ moment, as he was sleep-deprived from all the work he’d done, and conflicted by some of the conclusions he was drawing from what he was finding in the details.
He agreed that documenting the process would be a helpful way of keeping track of events and took comfort in having someone else present that he could share this with.
There were many aspects to the story that were compelling: Dan’s determination to uncover the truth (without being bought by interests on either side), the vitriolic hatred towards Slager, the depiction of Walter Scott in the media as a ‘deadbeat dad’ as some sort of justification for Slager’s actions.
Dan’s obsessive pursuit of the truth was what caught my attention but the deeper narrative at the heart of what the video represents is what made me feel that it was an important story to tell.
Our involvement is circumstantial but being Canadian informs the story we’re telling. There was a definite feeling of being an outsider regarding both setting and subject throughout the filming but I hope that American audiences embrace it as a fresh and balanced perspective rather than an intrusion on a US story.
Ultimately the film is about the micro-narrative of the shooting and its place in the larger narrative of police-involved violence towards communities of colour in the United States. We zoom out into a larger social issue using the media as our lens.
I hope the film is able to offer some behind-the-scenes insight into part of the systems and framework in the United States that contribute to the epidemic of police involved shootings and killings.
Whether you believe Walter Scott may have made contact with Slager’s taser ends up becoming irrelevant when you allow yourself not to be seduced by the case details and connect the dots to a bigger picture.
The bottom line is that there is a law in the US that allows an officer to play judge, jury and executioner based on the level of threat they are feeling. When all we have is a video to determine what happened during the altercation, it’s open for anyone to interpret who these two men are and what transpired based on personal biases and whatever the media deems newsworthy.
This film is about our relationship to world issues, how we choose to interact with the information we’re inundated with daily and how we wield technology to pursue our own narratives.
Technology allowed Feidin Santana to film the shooting; it allowed Dan, another country away, to get involved by disseminating a more nuanced narrative through image stabilization; and it provided the ideal conditions for the viral spread of a video showing a brutal altercation that ended up galvanizing an oppressed community.
Responses on Reddit reveal the divisiveness of public opinion, many comments vitriolic and deeply racist. Technology has really pulled the curtain back. It’s accelerated the conversation about every issue that exists today.
Whether we can grow together, build bridges of understanding and make sense of all of the chatter remains to be seen.
About Rich Williamson
Rich Williamson graduated from Ryerson University in 2008 focusing on cinematography and editing.
He has since worked as a freelancer, shooting and cutting films, corporate videos, trailers and TV programs for well-known brands and companies as well as fellow independent filmmakers.
As a director, his work blends together the best of fiction and documentary techniques with a focus on social issue subjects. His award-winning short films including Frame 394 (2016), The Sugar Bowl (2011), Joe (2012) and Unsinkable (2012) have screened at festivals worldwide including the Hot Docs, DC Shorts, LA Shorts, Atlanta, New Orleans, Sidewalk, and Al Jazeera Film Festivals.
His work has aired on TV, been released on iTunes, gone viral and featured on CBC, Bravo, Al Jazeera, Short of the Week, The Hollywood Reporter, AV Club, Slashfilm, Screenrant, Gizmodo, Mashable, Collider and Nerdist.
Rich participated in the Reykjavik International Film Festival’s 2013 Talent Lab and completed the Canadian Film Centre’s Cineplex Entertainment Film Program in 2015.
His latest film, Frame 394, is part of the inaugural round of the CBC’s new Digital Doc Shorts initiative. It had its world premiere at the 2016 Hot Docs Film Festival in Toronto and went on to win best Canadian short at NorthwestFest, best documentary short at the Rhode Island Int’l Film Festival and best documentary short at the Sidewalk Film Festival in Birmingham, Alabama.