Ground Zero: Ferguson

Director statement:

My name is David Whitt,

I’m a community organizer and the director of Ground Zero: Ferguson. I was living in the neighborhood during the time Mike Brown was killed. This police shooting led to the most widespread unrest in the United States since the Civil Rights era. It catalyzed the slogans Hand Up, Don’t Shoot! and Black Lives Matter, and sparked a nationwide conversation about police brutality and racism in law enforcement. Since then, we have witnessed many similar murders by police captured by citizen cameras in cities across the country. But while affected communities continue to struggle for justice, authorities and the media respond to these police killings in a manner that systematically avoids conversations about real solutions. More importantly, the people most impacted by these killings are least likely to be included in these conversations.

The real solution lies in listening to the stories of real people. I started to collect the unheard voices of Ferguson by filming interviews with residents of my community. This documentary tells their version of what happened and their vision for what needs to happen. But to fully and authentically capture these voices, I need your support. Join this campaign, and help me complete this film, so this story can be shared with audiences everywhere.

The film will weave together a broad collection of interviews with first-hand witnesses, local residents, community organizers, and law enforcement representatives into a thematic narrative of collective reflection. Some of these voices take us back to the experience of living in a neighborhood that was literally being barricaded and under siege by local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies, assisted by the Army National Guard.

Others will tell the story of a community memorial built in the middle of the road where Michael Brown was killed. As mourners came from everywhere to pay their respects, this memorial started to become a point of contention in community-police relations. It was run over several times and even burnt down at one point. I will never forget the day I woke up to the smoldering memorial with police standing idly by as it was burning

But Ground Zero: Ferguson also tells the story of a neighborhood that found real solutions. You’ll meet the residents of Canfield Greens who stopped police brutality by coming together and creating their own systems of justice and mutual accountability after police decided they would no longer patrol the area for one year after the August 2014 shooting. They’ll tell you how people came together, and which struggles they endured in resisting the institutions that were supposed to fix, not perpetuate, the problem.

This documentary begins and ends in Ferguson, but takes it takes the viewer on excursions to North Charleston, Baltimore, Oakland, and Staten Island to highlight similarities and explore differences to other high-profile videotaped police killings.

In doing so, we reflect on common patterns of ( mis)representation and strategies used to divide the public in the wake of these incidents. We examine the so-called Ferguson Effect, widely publicized in the public narrative by leading figures including former FBI director James Comey. This is the idea that increased scrutiny of law enforcement by citizens equipped with video cameras will lead to more crime because the police are undermined in their effectiveness. Since 2014, studies have repeatedly found no evidence of a Ferguson Effect with respect to crime, or the number of officers killed on duty. Yet in 2018, sensationalist media continue to ask such ill-informed questions as “Is the ‘Ferguson Effect’ to blame for the carnage in Chicago?”

Ultimately, Ground Zero: Ferguson is a documentary that highlights the need to struggle for public space in the wake of police tragedies: the fight for physical space to come together, the fight for narrative space to be heard, and the fight for political space to find solutions.

The Team
David Whitt is a filmmaker, activist, and community organizer from St. Louis, MO. He is the founder of the Canfield Watchmen, a cop-watch movement created in the Ferguson neighborhood where Mike Brown was killed. He is also a founding member of the St. Louis First Responders, a network of lawyers, activists, and community members that responds to police shootings. David is a trainer and on-the-ground coordinator for WeCopwatch, and regularly travels cross-country to support other groups and initiatives.

Jacob Crawford is a filmmaker, journalist, and veteran activist. He is executive producer of the 2017 documentary Copwatch, and also creator of These Streets Are Watching, the first in-the-streets, non-dramatized know-your-rights training video (released in 2004). Outside of film, Jacob has worked as a professional investigator for a law firm that successfully sued the Oakland Police Department in multiple cases over the span of three years, securing a total settlement value of nearly $10 million for plaintiffs. He has extensive experience in the assembly and presentation of evidence, and has incorporated this knowledge into his journalism and film work.

Patrick Hamm is an award-winning documentary filmmaker and founder of Bulldog Agenda, a Berlin-based production company. A 2018 Berlinale Talents alumnus, he most recently completed Freedom For the Wolf, an epic investigation into the global rise of illiberal democracy, which took him to the frontlines of protest movements around the world. He is also executive producer of Copwatch, which tells the true story of WeCopwatch, an organization dedicated to filming police activity as a non-violent form of protest and deterrent to police brutality. Patrick holds a Ph.D. in Sociology from Harvard University and a B.A. in Ethics, Politics & Economics from Yale University.

Andreas Brinck is a digital activist and experienced online campaigner. Following a private sector career in online marketing, he now manages social media campaigns for NGO clients like climate advocacy networks 350.org and FossilFree. He is a longtime climate justice organizer, and currently runs a popular news and live-streaming portal that reports on the resistance against open-pit coal mining in Germany. Andreas visited Ferguson as a Heinrich Böll Foundation Welcoming Communities Awardee in 2016. He holds a B.A. in Business Administration from Boston University.

We are grateful for our partners at WITNESS for their mentorship and ongoing support of this project.

The Campaign
Unfortunately, making real films costs real money. We need to raise a minimum total of $45,000 to complete this film. Your donations will allow us to film the remaining scenes and interviews, to hire the necessary post-production specialists, to license third-party footage, and to promote the film after its release. Because Ground Zero: Ferguson challenges existing narratives, it’s important that we steer clear of reductionist mainstream discourse, and we can only do that if we stay independent of the constraints that come with traditional film financing.

If you choose to support our campaign, we got a number of cool perks for you! Depending on the level of your contribution, you will receive screen credits, limited edition apparel, or early access to a digital download of the film. For higher-level donors we offer gifts like VIP tickets to the premiere or an individual Q&A with the filmmakers. And for anyone choosing to donate at one of our producer levels – you receive the full perk package and we consider you to be a member of our team.

All contributions matter, and even if you can only donate $10, you’ll receive a shoutout on our social media channels and receive regular insider updates from the campaign.

This campaign is a flexible campaign. That means If we don’t raise the entire goal amount, we still receive the funds from all committed donors. In that event that this will happen, our contingency plan is to use the funds that we receive to complete the remaining interviews and location shoots in the most economical way, and to hire an assistant editor that we can afford. This will allow us to complete a rough cut of the film, which we can then use to fundraise for our remaining post-production expenses.