By Darlene Donloe
On Black Friday 2012, Jordan Davis was a happy black teenager out having fun with three of his friends, who are also black. Little did he know that sometime that day he would die in a hail of bullets fired into a car he was riding in.
The shots would come from the gun of Michael Dunn.
Here’s what happened.
Jordan Davis, argued with Michael Dunn, a white man parked beside them, over the volume of the music playing in their car. The situation escalated when the teens, who at first turned down the music, turned it back up. Davis and Dunn had some words.
One thing led to another when suddenly Dunn fired 10 bullets at the unarmed boys, killing Davis almost instantly. Dunn claims he saw a gun and thought his life was in danger.
The documentary 31/2 Bullets, Ten Minutes, written and directed by Marc Silver, chronicles the tragedy. It also explores Florida's Stand Your Ground self-defense laws. Jordan Davis’s friends and his parents are interviewed about their experiences in and out of the courtroom.
The film won a Special Jury Award for Social Impact at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival and the Audience Award for Best Documentary at the RiverRun Film Festival. 31/2 MINUTES, TEN BULLETS opens today nationwide.
I interviewed Marc Silver about the making of the documentary.
DD: There are endless stories similar to this. What about this tragedy made you want to direct, write and just immerse yourself in this story?
MS: I was fortunate enough to meet Jordan’s parents a couple of weeks before the Zimmerman verdict. The time I spent I was just trying to understand what happened during those 3 ½ minutes. I look at the film as trying to look at this perfect storm, the use of guns, etc. Later Ferguson happened and others have happened since. There was something during those minutes that was significant and bigger to Jordan and Michael Dunn.
DD: This was a tough documentary to watch. Was it hard to direct and write?
MS: Yeah, it was extremely hard. I spent time with his parents while they were living with his death. There are no words when a parent has to bury their child for no reason. I couldn’t come to grips with what that must feel like. It changes your life forever. They had their child ripped from them. Jordan was living with his father at this time. It was on his watch. His parents are divorced. He talked to Jordan about things like this and how he looked like Trayvon.
DD: As a documentary filmmaker, what is your role and responsibility when crafting a documentary?
MS: I think I feel a sense of responsibility to the people in the film. I think for this particular story I felt a sense of responsibility to this one family. You get to know who Jordan was through his parents and girlfriend and the other boys who were in the car at the time of the shooting. I felt a responsibility that there was a bigger truth to be told.
DD: What do you think you offered audiences that they didn’t already know about the case?
MS: I think a few things. We were very lucky to get a camera in the courtroom. The audience gets to see how a trial unfolds. It was about whoever tells the best story, wins the trial, more than whether the truth comes out. The attorney for Dunn was good. It’s shocking to see how the trial played out. Race wasn’t allowed to be discussed in the courtroom. He [Dunn] didn’t use racist language that anyone heard. Race was the very reason we were all in the courtroom. I think there is something you get from a long documentary. Maybe the deeply revealing thing is really what Dunn comes to represent. Not that he is a racist, but that he was so naïve to his own racism that he came to represent a side of America that is also naïve to their racism.
DD: While in the midst of your research – what wowed you? What shocked you?
MS: Some of those phone calls by Dunn to his girlfriend had been revealed on local media. But we got hold of many hours of those phone calls with his girlfriend. They are in the public domain.
Some of them were shocking. He compared himself to a rape victim. He said he feels like a rape victim who is wearing a skimpy skirt. He felt he saved others by killing Jordan. Most shocking was that the jury couldn’t reach a decision the first time. This defense lawyer was so good. He really was capable of selling reasonable doubt.
DD: You spent time with the parents. What did you come away with?
MS: Came away with them parenting Jordan – they became activist in their own right. They wanted the world to know who Jordan was. They saw what happened to Trayvon [Martin]. They wanted Jordan to be looked at as a human being. They fought hard to re-humanize Jordan in the media and the public. I had a great respect for that.
DD: How long did you shoot footage for this doc.?
MS: A year and a half from when we first met the parents.
DD: Was there something or someone you wanted to get, but were unable?
MS: I didn’t want to make it as a talking head. The people in the film were the people directly related to the story as it was unfolding. The one person was Michael Dunn and his family. They didn’t want to be in the film. I thought they should be. If nothing else just to hear their side of the story. When we listened to the phone calls we found out more than we would have if we interviewed Dunn.
DD: Your feelings about Florida’s Stand Your Ground self-defense laws?
MS: It’s a warning to people who advocate for that law. He is spending life in prison, his family is destroyed and his fiancé is gone.
DD: Did you actually try to interview Dunn or his girlfriend?
MS: We did through Dunn’s defense lawyer, but there came a point during the trial we realized we didn’t need to interview her. She did enough on the stand when she revealed what Dunn said to her after the shooting. At that point she was a very fragile person.
Her life was destroyed. They had been happy living on the beach. Everything was hunky dory.
DD: In your opinion - do you think Dunn would have said anything about the volume if it had been a car full of white kids?
MS: I have no doubt that nothing would have happened if the boys in the car were white. He thought he had authority to tell young black boys what to do.
DD: What did/do you personally think about Michael Dunn?
MS: As a filmmaker part of me, like wow you’re a gift to a film. You revealed yourself during all of those phone calls. And arguing with the prosecutor. In a big way it’s a metaphor it’s about race and how it’s discussed in the U.S. There were/are times I believe he genuinely believes that he saw a gun. What was his trajectory that led to him thinking he saw a gun?
DD: What are you working on next?
MS: A film about Ayahuasca an herb indigenous people have been using for years. It’s a hallucinogenic.
31/2 MINUTES, TEN BULLETS: Running Time: 98 minutes