‘Scenema’ and the Truth According To Darren Wilson
Driven by their own quest to better understand the emotions, conflict and complexities that emerged from the tragedy of Michael Brown’s death, filmmakers Sol Guy and Ezra Miller have just premiered a provocative experimental work – a standalone “scene,” extruded from the larger drama of Ferguson, Mo.
The four-and-a-half minute piece is called “The Truth According to Darren Wilson,” and it has inaugurated a new feature, The Scene, on Tribeca Film’s website*. The site describes The Scene as a platform as a place “for actors, writers, and directors to create, collaborate, and participate. This isn’t a feature, this isn’t a short. It’s a scene, a piece of life, a moment.”
But can moments and pieces of life stand on their own as legitimate cinematic expression? It’s a little too early to determine whether this will proliferate into its own new genre, but certainly worth keeping your eye on where this goes. Until some comes up with a better term, we’re calling it “scenema.” Ironically, “scenema” reverts back to the earliest days of cinema itself, when Eadward Muybridge’s concocted a single sequence of a galloping horse in 1873.
Film has always been one of our most powerful ways of exploring and telling the truth in new ways. And the truth can be a complicated thing. We can, perhaps, be enlightened by deconstructing complex and overlapping narratives into more granular scenes to be examined on their own, intentionally isolated from the conventional narrative. Breaking narratives down into modules with unexpected points of view might add new layers of meaning to something so seemingly tragic or incoherent as the death of Michael Brown. If you watch the clip, you might be surprised.
Artists who experiment always run the risk of being misunderstood, their work being neither fish nor foul. But Guy and Miller seem to have struck a nerve. It’s hard, if not impossible, to categorize “scenema” as pure narrative, documentary, short film nor traditional re-enactment. But their first effort shows the power of point of view, context and tone in expanding our understanding of complex human dramas – in this case, the shooting of Michael Brown.
“The Truth According to Darren Wilson” (inspired by George Stephanopoulos’ interview with Darren Wilson last fall, just after he was acquitted of killing Michael Brown) is a fascinating meditation on the truth using the scene as a moment of “What if?” re-imagination.
Ferguson has become a metaphor for the racial divide in America. Unlike the extraordinary response of forgiveness and healing rooted in the deeply religious community of Charleston, S.C., that resulted in the removal of the Confederate flag, the anger in Ferguson over Michael Brown’s death is still boiling over in senseless violence nearly one year later.
Guy and Miller explore a new style of storytelling here: a brilliant art form to shake up our fixed view of Wilson. Cutting and editing his verbatim interview transcript with Wilson portrayed by actor Sean Rogers (you might think Rogers is actually Wilson’s doppelg?nger), their creative and compelling scene helps us understand this tragedy in a new way.
By using dramatic camera angles, close-ups, sound effects and remarkable editing, Guy and Miller layer expressiveness and visual contrition on top of Wilson’s exact words, creating a new interpretation and context for understanding what happened on that fateful yet otherwise “normal” day.
Using this narrative style of storytelling (arguably a new style, if not altogether new art form), Guy and Miller have been able to evoke for us a deeper level of empathy for Wilson than Stephanopoulos’ post-acquittal interview achieved. We become Darren Wilson at the most visceral level: a police officer staring into the abyss fearful for our life. The filmmakers make no judgments except that ultimately the only way we will heal our racial divide is to see even the most outrageous actions from multiple perspectives.
They are simply trying to reconcile in their own minds an alternative way of processing the dark and disturbing message and messiness of White police officer Darren Wilson shooting a Black man: Michael Brown. We the viewers are challenged to make an earnest effort to dig deep and peer into our own vulnerability and collective consciousness to create a moment of shared humanity. This psychologically courageous and ethically destabilizing film is an experience of fierce grace. It is simply one man’s truth re-imagined by two filmmakers seeking their own truth..
*Craig Hatkoff is a co-founder of Tribeca Enterprises and the Tribeca Film Festival, which hosts The Scene on its website.
This post was originally published on Forbes.com.
May 16, 2019