Spoiler alert: If you happen to film a police officer killing a black person, the cops might not like it. That’s one of the not-so-surprising revelations from a new documentary set to premiere this month.
Copwatch isn’t about cops, police killings or even injustice. Instead, director Camilla Hall chronicles the aftermath of what happens when regular citizens decide to turn their cameras on the cops. The film follows three men after they decide to film the results of some of the most famous cases of police brutality.
The film begins with a brief history of cops caught on film, beginning with the Rodney King beating. It is the Oscar Grant BART killing in Oakland, Calif., in 2009 that prompts a few Bay Area activists to create a collective dedicated to watching and recording law enforcement. After one of the founders travels to Ferguson, Mo., after the death of Mike Brown, he runs into David Whitt, a young father who lives on Canfield Drive, a few yards away from where Brown died. Whitt immediately dedicates his life to filming the aftermath of Brown’s death in Ferguson, and co-founds WeCopwatch, an organization that equips and teaches people how to lawfully record the police.
The documentary turns toward Ramsey Orta, who was sitting outside talking to his friend Eric Garner before he started to film New York City Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo wrap his arms around Garner’s throat as Garner whispered, “I can’t breathe.” The audience watches as the entire NYPD turns its wrath and resources toward Ortega.
Kevin Moore, the third of the film’s subjects, witnessed and recorded the arrest of his friend and neighbor Freddie Gray in Baltimore. All three of the film’s subjects, bound together by WeCopwatch co-founder Jacob Crawford, weave a spellbinding tale of legal entanglements, trials, triumph and backlash in the aftermath of their infamous videos.
Instead of a sanguine documentary about injustice and police brutality, Hall has managed to create an intriguing, bittersweet human tale, with the fight for equality and justice as the backdrop for an intimate portrait of three lives at once ripped apart and stitched together by a common cause.
Copwatch will be screened at the following locations before it debuts on Video on Demand on Sept. 29:
Friday, Sept. 22, New York City
7 Ludlow St.
New York, NY 10002
Friday, Sept. 22, Los Angeles
Echo Park Film Center
1200 N. Alvarado St.
Los Angeles, CA 90026
Sat., Sept. 23, Harlem
343 Malcolm X Blvd.
New York, NY 10027
Sept. 22-28, Chicago
1517 W. Fullerton Ave.
Chicago, IL 60614
Sept. 22-28, Columbus, Ohio
Gateway Film Center
1550 N. High St.
Columbus, OH 43201
Watch an exclusive clip from the film below: