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Hot Docs 2016 Interview: Shasha Nakhai and Rich Williamson Talk “Frame 394”


Some documentaries always raise more questions than answers. The answers that may give a headache to some people, and eliminate the heartache for someone else. And when that questions touches a-black-and-white issues in our society, that is what is most difficult subject to talk about. But if a black man is killed by the police officer? Who should we blame in that incident? A man who got killed, or the one who pulled the trigger?

Filmmaker Rich Williamson and producer Shasha Nakhai clearly do not take any side in their “Frame 394”. But rather, leave it up to you to decide which side you would like to take. But remember, before jumping into any conclusion, see “Frame 394” to be able to judge on your own.

During the Hot Docs International Documentary Film Festival, I had sit down with Rich Williamson and Shasha Nakhai to go a bit more deep into the subject of the film that I am sure, many of you will talk about afterwards.

MOVIEMOVESME: Can you talk about Frame 394 and the existing issues between the blacks and the whites?

Rich Williamson: I guess with examining this view looking for what is the meaning of truth, what is truth in life and how it applies to different people in these times. So following Dan as a character is interesting because he is as grey as it gets.

Shasha Nakhai: We were interested in Dan because he was able to do something that I wouldn’t do, a lot of people wouldn’t do and has to go seek the truth himself. People go on their phones and say, “White policeman kills a black man”, assuming they understand the story. He actually digs a lot deeper and finds out that it’s not like the policeman is an evil person who kills this man; it’s a lot more complicated than that. So this film helps people grasp the more complex part of the story because when we simplify any story, it’s to our own detriment.

Rich Williamson: There were a set of events that occurred leading up to the events we see in the movies. I think the film goes into the news and how it condensed to a point of being, so it’s sort of easy to digest but very pointedly good and evil.

Shasha Nakhai: You see it differently in different kind of press too; one press will paint it like, “Walter Scott, the victim” another would be like, “Deadbeat dad who was behind on child payment.” Others would completely focus on the fact that the man was killed regardless of what he did, he was still shot in the back while he was running away. So there’s a variety of different portrayals but they’re extremes; there’s not many in the middle ground.

MOVIEMOVESME: What do you think is the role of social network today when it comes to such cases where people, without any case knowledge, point fingers blindly?

Rich Williamson: Well, there’s an aspect to this story that was interesting in Reddit; it’s an open community where you can talk about anything; people are behind the walls of a computer and they can say whatever they want which fascinates me and facinated Dan as well. But you definitely can see the dark side of it; a place where people take the popular opinion and sort of becomes almost a latch-on.

Shasha Nakhai: Social media is a very powerful tool and it can do a lot of good but it is also troublesome when something you post spreads like wildfire and it could be that you’re posting something wrong or inaccurate; you blink and the next thing you know is that 3 million people have seen it! You can’t erase it or message those people that you made a mistake. The immediacy of our viral media landscape is definitely something we’re commenting on in the film.

Rich Williamson: There’s a point in the film where Dan talks about bringing another aspect of the video to light. There were only a couple of people who were interested in that aspect but most were like they had already decided.

Shasha Nakhai: Things on social media go viral more if the thing makes them upset. So that plays into tune as well.

MOVIEMOVESME: How did you convince Daniel to be in the film as the social media could have gone against him as well?

Rich Williamson: I think Dan was interested in this sort of idea, what the truth is, just peeling back the layers of this thing. He understood the racial implications and he was afraid. But one of the things while making the film was that he endorsed that it would get out the truth and the journey he went through. He was worried if people just saw the face value of what he was doing, they would judge him an think he’s obviously for the officer.

Shasha Nakhai: That’s why he went with us, because Rich and him have been friends from University. He’s seen the work we’ve done and trusted us. That’s what he tell us all the time because he knows that it’s very easy to sensationalize and say like, “Oh this white guy is trying to help this police officer.” That’s very easily how this could be portrayed but he trusted that Rich would paint a more responsible picture.

MOVIEMOVESME: What is it that you want the viewer to see in the film about truth, justice and Daniel?

Shasha Nakhai: My motivation is I just really want people to be encouraged to try to seek out a broader picture of everything that we see online. I know it’s difficult because we’re inundated by hundreds of stories on social media everyday and we cannot research all of them. I was drawn to this story because here was someone, regardless of what he found, dug deeper himself and researched it more. I think it’ll be great if people would be encouraged to seek out a fuller picture of things we see. With quick paid journalism things could be so extreme online, but that’s now how the world is, it’s much more complicated.

Rich Williamson: That pretty much says it. In this day and age where everything’s so quick and easily accessible, it’s hard to get a very nuanced perspective on things. If anything, I’d like people to come out and just seek their own truth some more, look deeper into issues.

Shasha Nakhai: Politically, it’s not like we’re not trying to get the cop off or anything. We want people to understand that this is how things keep happening over and over again. If we’re going to stop it from happening over and over again, there’s a much more systemic problem of racism that needs to be tackled. The underlying thing is that the Supreme Court states that he would be justified if Walter Scott had been armed, that’s the problem in the first case! Why is the Supreme Court saying it’s okay to kill someone? It’s kind of showing that we’ll never truly know if the policeman was a racist or not. But there’s something wrong with the law that allowed him to do that.

Here is the link where you can watch “FRAME 394” for FREE.

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