365 WAYS TO KILL AN AMERICAN Review – A Jarring and Relevant Vision

Editor’s Note:  Read related interviews in the George Floyd: In Memoriam roundup.

Self-taught filmmaker Jordan Rome’s ongoing project, 365 Ways to Kill an American, aims to make a statement. It draws from infamous, real-life incidents to “levels of police brutality committed against Black bodies in America.” Comprised of reenactments, each short video in the series takes well-known cases of police brutality and casts them in new light by presenting them as short, cinematic vignettes, often times drawing from verbatim transcripts.

365 Ways to Kill an American Goes Beyond Dashcam Footage

In one short, based on the beating, arrest, and untimely death of Black Lives Matter activist Sandra Bland, the race of the officer and Bland are reversed. Going beyond the dashcam footage so many are used to seeing on the news, cinematographer Spence Warren captures the altercation from multiple angles. Trees reflect off a windshield, and we see each actor’s eyes in painful detail as they navigate each other. This offers viewers an up-close-and personal look at the altercation between Bland and Officer Brian Encinia. Rome’s goal is to make each event more personal and empathetic for the viewer, and, to this reviewer’s judgment, the impact is gut-wrenchingly effective. Knowing that the words in 365 Ways to Kill an American’s Sandra Bland short were culled from the police transcript tape makes the short all the more chiling.

Race-swapped actors contribute to film’s impact

In swapping the race of the actors in the altercation, Rome aims to allow for greater outrage from audiences of all backgrounds. Spurred “by the lack of non-Black people speaking out about this very American issue,” Rome casts a white actor, Cassandra Snyder, as Bland and a black actor, Djvon Simpson, as Encinia. Each actor creates a full-formed character, and, a credit to Rome’s direction, layers in subtleties that heighten the encounter. To this reviewer, a white male, the result is as jarring as it is relevant. Brecht’s “verfremdungseffekt,” or “alienation effect,” came to mind, as enough distance is generated from Rome’s choice to convey the full weight of the story’s tragic realities.

With other incidents inspiring future iterations, 365 Ways to Kill an American is shaping up to be a stark wake-up call to Americans who’d rather ignore reality. Conceptualized and executed by an up-and-coming filmmaker with an exciting voice, the series is certainly worth keeping on your radar, and may even prove a useful tool in sparking new conversations online or in classrooms across the country.

Click here to watch the first part of 365 Ways to Kill an American

Photos courtesy of 365 WAYS TO KILL AN AMERICAN

Brent Ervin-Eickhoff is a director, writer, and educator based in Chicago, IL. He has worked with A Red Orchid Theatre, Silk Road Rising, Mary-Arrchie Theatre Co., Facility Theatre, and others as a director, assistant director, and in a variety of artistic capacities. Brent served as Co-Artistic Director and then Managing Director of Blue Goose Theatre Ensemble for three years, of which he was a founding member. His productions of Herculaneum and Bison? Bison. Bison! with Blue Goose were praised by critics and audiences. Bison? Bison. Bison! was selected and performed as part of Chicago’s Night Out in the Parks Initiative. An award-winning filmmaker, Brent’s films have screened as part of the Frog Baby Film Festival and Indianapolis 48 Hour Film Project. His play Puget Sound was workshopped as a staged reading as part of A Red Orchid Theatre’s Incubator Program in 2017. Brent graduated from Ball State University Magna Cum Laude with degrees in Directing and Theatre Education, as well as Ball State’s prestigious Academic Honors in Writing.

Read more about him and other Picture this Post writers on the Picture this Post Masthead.

Click here to read more Picture this Post articles by Brent Ervin-Eickhoff

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