17 Blocks between Washington and Me

August 6, 2019

The 17 Blocks (Davy Rothbart, 2019) of the film’s title refers to the distance between the Whitehouse and the Sanford home. Far from being a film about the relationship between the family and the state; filmmaker and journalist Davy Rothbart reveals a family that lives outside of society, alienated from the state apparatus despite their proximity to it. 

Spanning 20 years, the film begins by introducing the matriarch Cheryl as a part of her community and a loving mother. We realize something’s wrong when only one of her three children are going to school, which begs the question, why? The answer is revealed with a shot of Cheryl passed out on her bed. Its Boyhood (Richard Linklater, 2014) meets Boyz n the Hood (John Singleton, 1991) as home video footage relays a city plagued by poverty, addiction and gun violence. The period covered includes both George W Bush and Barack Obama’s presidencies, yet the insidious status quo doesn’t seem to change much for the family. 

Drug deals and street fights allow Cheryl’s eldest son Smurf to feel powerful in a world of disenfranchisement. In sharp contrast, Smurf’s little brother Emmanuel is a committed student and scholarship recipient. But this isn’t a film that draws a binary between the victors and victims of circumstance. Emmanuel is able to study because Smurf supports him financially. Overall, it’s a film about choice. The choices we make, and the choices that are taken from us. Tragedy at the films halfway point marks a watershed moment for the family. From a renewed place of pain, which path will each member of the family choose to walk?

Find out, on:
07 Aug, 14:00, Lumbardhi Indoor
10 Aug, 16:00, Lumbardhi Indoor

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