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Examining the violent death of the filmmaker's brother and the judicial system that allowed his killer to go free, this documentary interrogates murderous fear and racialized perception, and re-imagines the wreckage in catastrophe's wake, challenging us to change.
To be blunt: a bad documentary in spite of good intentions
"Strong Island" is one of the worst documentary features I have come across in many years. Yance Ford, a transgender, has credentials: He worked as a series producer at PBS for ten years; he was named one of Filmmaker magazine's 25 New Faces of Independent Film; he was also the recipient of a Sundance Documentary Film Program Fellowship. And he produced and directed this movie which is about as personal a film anyone could ever make, a film investigating the 1992 murder of his brother, William Ford. Or, at least, that's what it was purported to be about.
Amateurishly edited, and without coming to anything remotely resembling a point, the film has close-ups of family members slowly speaking in annoying monotone, rambling on in various digressions: references to racism that seemed haphazard; discussing what they like to eat; the difficulty in coming to terms with sexuality; how their family loves each other - anything it seems except the murder investigation. It is completely without focus, mostly boring, and consequently hard to sit through. Even worse: The filming seems so contrived, and the interviewees so obviously 'trying to act,' that it sometimes seems like a mockumentary instead of a documentary. It's bad, there's no other way to say it.
I try to ask myself how a talented filmmaker could make a documentary so sophomoric and continuously uninteresting, and I come up with nothing. But I don't blame Yance Ford because I assume he tried to do something different and merely fell on his butt. What I DON'T understand is how the Academy of Arts and Sciences could seriously nominate a stinker like this for Best Documentary Feature. Weren't there better documentaries around? Even your iPhone home movie is bound to be better than "Strong Island"!
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