“To be successful at something that is based on such an ugly premise is a challenge and I think about it all the time,” said Sabaah Folayan, co-director of “Whose Streets?”
“I didn’t go to Ferguson thinking this [film] would happen. But now that I have these opportunities, I would completely give everything up for Mike Brown’s mother and father just to have their son back.”
After a critically acclaimed run at the Sundance Film Festival this winter – which led to the acquisition by Magnolia Pictures – “Whose Streets?” opens in major cities next Friday (August 11). As the filmmakers hoped, the film’s release comes just days after the third anniversary of the Ferguson unrest. There will be a special screening presented by the Organization For Black Struggle on Saturday, August 12 at the Tivoli.
“The goal that we had from the beginning was to make sure that the story was able to be put out on a national scale because the misinformation was put out on a national scale,” Folayan said. “To partner with Magnolia and have it roll out in over 20 major cities just feels like we are going to get the chance to set the record straight for a lot of people.”
Folayan and co-director Damon Davis didn’t know each other before the Ferguson unrest that began with the death of Michael Brown Jr. on August 9, 2014. They went into the thick of it for completely different reasons.
A native of South Central Los Angeles, Folayan came from New York City to bear witness to what was happening with the intention of bringing public health into the fold as far as resources for protesters. The plan was to help them unpack what that led them to the streets to push back. With the trauma underway, it was impossible to collect data, so she started collecting stories.
Davis originally came as an activist. As a visual artist and musician, the East St. Louis, Illinois native was there from the beginning. He knew he wanted to respond creatively, but his usual outlets didn’t seem to do it justice.
“It was like, ‘What could I do to best use the skills that I have and what medium could capture it?’” Davis asked himself. “A record couldn’t do it, a song couldn’t do it, a painting couldn’t do it, but a movie could.”
Folayan had come to the same conclusion after obtaining narratives from the front line. She sought to team with a native to help her tell the story. As the events continued to unfold, Folayan and Davis teamed up after meeting at his art show. “Whose Streets?” was the outcome.
Davis remembered living experiences in Ferguson only to have them told back to him via mainstream media in a way that looked and sounded nothing like what actually happened.
“That was one of the biggest things that got us together to work on this in the first place,” Davis said. “We had the same analysis that the whole story was not being told – and that somebody had to tell the missing pieces. I’m glad that it is going to reach the masses – and communities like ours that have felt this way will have access to this story as they have to everybody else’s story and everybody else’s version of our story.”
Events surrounding the unrest are touched upon through footage from more than 40 sources, but the crux of “Whose Streets?” comes from the portraits of people who relentlessly fought back against the system.
“This film is about the changes we can make in our lives today,” Folayan said. “It’s about individual human beings and honoring those people who came out and stood up and these people are heroes.”
Folayan said the streets of Ferguson were filled with people standing up for values that America has always professed, but never upheld.
“A lot of times activists get put to the side like they are thugs or are against law and order – and all the things that make America great,” Folayan said. “In reality, they are trying to uphold the standards that this country set. I hope that a real internal change takes place with how people see each other, with how people see activism and protest – and the people involved in it.”
The Brown family themselves were featured in the film through footage, but out of respect for their privacy and grief they were not among the key subjects.
“This is very special for those of us who lived through this, but it’s a different thing for the people who had a death in their family be the catalyst for everybody’s awakening,” Davis said.
Both Davis and Folayan say their intention was for the activists to see themselves glorified and humanized – and for the people who did not protest to see the dignity, necessity of what they were doing and to have a new perspective on the protests.
“I want the people who lived it to feel good about the movie – and what they did in the streets,” Davis said. “I hope those people who were out there see the glory and the magic in what they’ve done – and who they are.
I hope through the film they feel vindicated in what they have been telling people as far as how it really was – and I hope they feel inspired to keep fighting.”
“Whose Streets?” opens in theaters nationwide on Friday, August 11. The Organization for Black Struggle will present a special screening at The Tivoli, 6350 Delmar on Saturday, August 12. For more information on the OBS screening, call (314) 367 – 5959 or visit http://www.obs-stl.org/whose-streets-weekend/.