Strong Island


★★★★

Directed by Yance Ford

Starring Yance Ford, Barbara Dunmore, William Ford, Harvey Walker, Kevin Myers, Lauren Ford, David Breen, Ed Boyar,

Netflix Film Review by Chris Olson


Netflix documentaries have proven to be a compelling source of popular content with audiences recently. Following the global success of a TV show like Making a Murderer, true to life stories have seen an uprise in viewers, with more documentary filmmakers taking on hugely topical themes. One such filmmaker is Yance Ford, who brings us the tragic story of her brother William who was shot dead after an altercation in a car garage. William was unarmed, but was perceived to have presented enough threat to justify his shooting, which was then deemed "not a crime". The bulk of Ford's documentary, Strong Island, focuses on the injustice which was allowed to prevail and the tumultuous effect it has had on her and her family.

Told with a ferocious anger in almost every scene, intense facial close ups and skewed angles, every aesthetic aspect of Strong Island is injected to maximum impact. The broiling range of Yance is just one of the gripping emotions on display. William's mother Barbara displays a slightly more complex range, including utter heartbreak, desolation, and disillusionment with the land she lives in - where the odds are stacked against black families, a feeling she previously had not held. Her account of going before an all-white grand jury who seemed completely unmoved by the catastrophe that had befallen her family is one of the most poignantly affecting sequences in the documentary.

Where Strong Island struggles to elevate itself to the next level is in the lack of original footage. Unlike the aforementioned Making a Murderer, the audience is not given access to the shocking "real thing". Without being able to witness the events for themselves, audiences may find it harder to connect with the atrocity being described. The impact of visual footage being a fundamental cinematic device for documentary filmmakers. That being said, where Ford's film is unique, is in offering a brutally honest depiction of the fallout of a terrible event on the victim's family, completely from their perspective, and fearless when it comes to discussing heavy topics such as race, gender, violence. Coupled with the achingly sad fact that all the family members pay loving tribute to William, who by all accounts seemed like a genuinely nice person, then Strong Island becomes a fiercely powerful and loaded document.

Available on Netflix from September 15th, watch the official Movie Trailer for Strong Island below...


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