2017 Milwaukee Film Festival – Day Nine – THE BLOOD IS AT THE DOORSTEP
There are some that feel that the Milwaukee Film Festival, at 15 days, is too long. However, when the festival can bypass the whole first week, a week filled with significant films, before unveiling what’s sure to be one of the most talked about films around Milwaukee, I think it’s a pretty solid refutation of that idea. Especially as THE BLOOD IS AT THE DOORSTEP generally lives up to the pre-festival hype.
On April 30, 2014, Dontre Hamilton was hanging out in Red Arrow park lawfully. That didn’t stop him from being mistaken for a homeless man and having the police called on him. After taking offense to being patted down by Milwaukee Police Department officer Christopher Manney, a scuffle broke out between the two, Dontre Hamilton wrestled the billy club away from Manney, and then Manney shot Hamilton 14 times killing him. THE BLOOD IS AT THE DOORSTEP documents the aftermath of that event, the controversy, political action, and most of all the effect on the Hamilton family who became political activists as a result. Anyone that lives in the Milwaukee area should know the basic facts, but THE BLOOD IS AT THE DOORSTEP delves quite a bit deeper and really illuminates the case.
Director Eric Ljung chose to use the Hamilton family as the focus of the film and that places him both at the center of events and provides a particularly candid and human focus for the story. It’s fair to critique some of the tactics of the protest movement that sprang out of the Hamilton killing, but the anguish and humanity of the people that lost a son and brother and then watched the system first circle the wagons than grind slowly while the frustrated family waited and waited for action is clearly to witness something true. There are perhaps more sides than presented in THE BLOOD IS AT THE DOORSTEP, but you’d have to have a real case of bias not to feel for the family at the center of the film.
“Who watches the watchmen?” has been a question asked for thousands of years and THE BLOOD IS AT THE DOORSTEP certainly makes a case that the question really hasn’t been answered. The film is at its most effective when it shows how the system defends itself. Police Chief Ed Flynn blatantly misstates the facts at the first press conference defending the shooting by claiming that Dontre Hamilton was homeless and had a history as an armed robber, both false statements which the media reported without fact checking. At least some of that fact checking could have been performed with a smart phone and accessing Wisconsin court records which are available on line. Later, Christopher Manney will go on the radio and claim that he was violently assaulted by Hamilton, while photographs, locked up as evidence, will show no evidence of those supposed injuries. The exposure of those moments, while the system gets its story out first to protect itself to the detriment of the dead man and his family, are some of the most effective moments of the film and certainly make a case for more transparency and more independent investigators as well as a media being more careful in fact checking.
I won’t say that THE BLOOD IS AT THE DOORSTEP is entirely balanced, but it does allow for some other sides to the story. Chief Flynn sighs, with perhaps justification, that the solution to all of society’s ills is more police training. I think it’s a fair point that Wisconsin’s independent investigator law is going to have a problem coming up with experienced homicide investigators that have no prior association with Milwaukee as well. And, the activists blocking traffic on freeways and trying to storm a Bucks game at the Bradley Center raises questions about their tactics and what they’re trying to do except annoy a bunch of people. You can glimpse some arguments among the protest movement itself.
Quibbles aside, it’s an electrifying, exciting documentary that has a real human side to it. A human side that was further illuminated by having the filmmakers and family members of Dontre Hamilton and other police killings, on stage and in the audience. It’s a home made documentary that really has a place in the community conversation. There’s no better place to show it than at the current Milwaukee Film Festival. Judging by last night, you’re going to have to work to get tickets if you don’t have them already.
THE BLOOD IS AT THE DOORSTEP will be showing once more at the 2017 Milwaukee Festival. The final screening is on Tuesday, October 10, 2017 at 8:45 pm at the Times Cinema. Tickets can be purchased online at the Milwaukee Film Festival website or at box office locations at various venues. The 2017 Milwaukee Film Festival runs from September 28 to October 12, 2017.