Sundance Film Review: 3 and 1/2 Minutes

11:03 AM

A car pulls up to a gas station with four teens inside. They're blasting rap music. Michael Dunn will pull up alongside the boys, and say to his fiancée Rhonda, "I hate that thug music." 3 and a half minutes and 10 bullets later, Jordan Davis is dead. 3 and 1/2 Minutes is a chilling, heartbreaking documentary which dissects the aftermath of the tragic murder of Jordan Davis, and nakedly puts on display the inequities and systemized racism of the American judicial system. This is the first film I've seen at Sundance; but what a remarkable start to the festival. Nothing could have possibly prepared me for the odyssey of emotions that would accompany 3 and 1/2 Minutes

The story goes that the boys pulled up the gas station and started playing the rap music loudly, at which point Michael Dunn, who was in the neighbouring vehicle asked them to turn down the music. They obliged at first but Jordan turned it back up. Michael Dunn, apparently sensing a threat to his life, and having seen a shotgun barrel, or a bat, or a lead pipe, or some other figment of his imagination, opened fire on the car, firing off ten rounds. Jordan was the only one hit. Dunn vehemently argued the "stand your ground" policy set in place in Flordia, and the case goes to trial. Throughout the film, we meet Jordan's parents, Rob and Lucia, as well as the friends who were with him in the car the night of the murder. The young men talk about girls and play video games and basketball while joking about Jordan's apparent lack of skill on the court. They're nice kids. They also speak frankly about how they are perceived to most, likening the current use of the word "thug" as the new socially acceptable n-word. The extraordinarily personal insights from Jordan's friends and well as with Jordan's parents, are peppered with the trial, and placed alongside phone conversations Dunn made to his fiancée, Rhonda. Dunn makes statements like "I'm the victim in this" and "I wonder where they're fathers are" and "they're gangsters", all with the naive sincerity of a brainwashed bigot. Collective outbursts of groans and giggles only come in response to his ineffable ignorance. 

On a technical scope, 3 and 1/2 Minutes is an exceptionally photographed film. Documentaries tend to have a reputation of the more grey-bathed and hand-held it is, the more authentic. I am personally loving the intimately artful documentary style that's cropped up lately, this soft-focus look that's so atypical of the doc brand. I had first seen Marc Silver's particular style of  documentary with Who Is Dayani Cristal at Sundance in 2013, and was absolutely blown away; Dayani Cristal being another tragic story zeroing in on race issues engrained in the American mindset. Marc is going to be a big name in documentary - he has a keen eye for cinematography, and a dedication to the truthfulness of the stories he tells. 

Hands raised at screening of 3 and 1/2 Minutes

There's no doubt that any kind of documentary has the opportunity to be biased - what do you include versus what you leave on the cutting room floor? But in the case of 3 and 1/2 Minutes, it's clear bias doesn't enter in to the equation. A great injustice was done to Jordan Davis, and by that logic, to so many other young black teens who have suffered the stigma of "shoot now, ask questions later". After the screening, we're met with a surprise. Jordan's parents are in attendance. It's an emotional Q&A as Rob and Lucia express their plans for the future, trying to change a justice system skewed against a entire race of people. Their words are powerful. In closing, Jordan's father speaks of children playing in sandboxes, innocent minds who have no idea what it means to be different based on skin tone. In a final gesture to Jordan, he asks the audience to each raise their hand in solidarity for the lives of the innocent, and leaves us with three, powerful little words: Race is taught.

3 and 1/2 Minutes

dir. Marc Silver
85 mins | USA 

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