'Stranger Fruit': Film Review | SXSW 2017

Michael Brown
A powerfully compelling take on events surrounding the death of Michael Brown.

Filmmaker Jason Pollock conducts a revealing investigation into the Ferguson shooting.

Stranger Fruit, an explosive documentary retracing the events surrounding the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown, begins with an image of the Ferguson, Missouri, African-American high school grad proudly wearing his cap and gown.

He’d die eight days later, unarmed, of multiple gunshot wounds at the hands of white police officer Darren Wilson, who would ultimately be exonerated of any criminal wrongdoing by a state grand jury, igniting a firestorm of protests in Ferguson and throughout the country.

Determined to set the record straight, director Jason Pollock (a protege of Michael Moore) opens his own investigation — and the damning, emotionally charged results clearly struck a chord with the audience at its SXSW world premiere, which was attended by Brown’s mother, Lezley McSpadden.

Thanks to Pollock’s dropping of a major bombshell in the form of additional surveillance footage that had evidently been suppressed by Ferguson police, the film (the title draws upon the lynching protest poem “Strange Fruit”) may even generate traction in efforts calling upon the Department of Justice to reopen Brown’s case.

Brown’s graduation from Normandy High was a big deal at a school with a four-year graduation rate of 61.5%. He was just about to head off to college when he and a friend were detained in a police ped (“pedestrian”) stop that went terribly wrong, with Wilson, claiming he feared for his safety, firing a dozen shots at Brown — the last one fatally penetrating his skull.

Incorporating computer-generated recreations based on extensive interviews with Brown’s family, eyewitnesses and public officials — as well as footage from an ABC interview Wilson did with a less-than-convinced-looking George Stephanopoulos — Pollock compellingly points a finger at the institutionalized racism that has permeated a disturbing number of the country’s police forces.

And that’s before the big reveal: newly-discovered footage not disclosed by the police department that would suggest Brown hadn’t robbed a nearby convenience store of a handful of cigarillos as maintained, an omission that was seen as a bid to demonize Brown.

While the film’s detractors will likely argue that Pollock has an agenda that resides squarely in the Brown family’s court, there’s no denying the heartbreaking impact of seeing McSpadden grieving her child with the mothers of Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice hovering closely at her side.

“Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,” indeed.

Production company: Boom
Content director-screenwriter: Jason Pollock
Producer: Jeremiah Younossi
Executive producer: Chris Perez
Cinematography: Beth Cloutier, Jason Pollock
Editor: Jason Pollock
Music: Dan Edinberg, Chris Zabriskie
Venue: South by Southwest (Documentary Spotlight)
Sales: Preferred Content, CAA

95 minutes