Sometimes you think you don’t need to see a documentary because you lived through the events, watching them in real-time or reading in-depth coverage in some news outlet. This is likely a common assumption about films on the Ferguson protests of 2014. But viewing social media live streams in the moment is limited in its context while written journalism and history fails to give you the best sense of what it was like to be there. Docs can offer both the sensation and the information.
Whose Streets? puts us on the ground of the protests beginning in August 2014 through the following year, and even better, it puts us into the community doing the protesting. The community that saw one of its own murdered by a police officer and then continued to be disrespected as it sought justice, understanding, and change. Activist filmmakers Sabaah Folayan and Sabaah Jordan have made a powerful doc that excites as it enlightens. It’s not an objective work, but it’s hard to see how it could be.
Although there is some retrospection to be found in the ongoing interviews with multiple characters, the doc is more historicism in motion with immediate insight rather than hindsight. Foloayan and Jordan don’t bother with too much backstory on Michael Brown, and that’s not needed. The film honors him but it’s not about him. It’s a film of the unrest, filling out the story as it should be fully known and experienced. And it’s the energy of the latter that makes it one of the most engaging features of the year.