3 ½ Minutes, Ten Bullets

17 years old and murdered for playing loud music. It sounds difficult to believe, but that’s the subject of director Marc Silver’s latest documentary, 3 ½ Minutes, Ten Bullets, which takes place in a Florida courthouse.

Jordan Davis was the victim of the crime known to the American public as ‘the Loud Music Trial’. On 23 November 2012, Davis was killed by a middle-aged white man named Michael Dunn, who repeatedly fired his gun into a car of unarmed black teenagers in a three-and-a-half minute spell, their crime being that they refused to turn down their rap music.

Rather than research the murder, the documentary examines the trial as it unfolds, thanks to the State giving permission to film in the courthouse. As a result we see every testimony from key witnesses, such as Davis’ friends and Dunn’s partner, and all the evidence obtained, including the ten bullets fired.

The defence Dunn is using is the ‘stand your ground’ law, which is controversial to say the least, with the infamous George Zimmerman walking free in 2013 despite killing an unarmed black teenager, Trayvon Martin.

The Florida law allows a person to protect their life using any level of force if they believe they face an imminent threat of death or serious bodily harm. It’s an ambiguous law, not only because it raises the question of whether murder is a justifiable solution. It’s easy to see why this film piqued the interest of many, considering the racial tensions currently rife in the US, with the Charleston shooting being the most recent crime.

A well-structured narrative ramps up the tension by taking excerpts from telephone calls between Dunn and his partner, Dunn’s arrest tape and conversations with Jordan’s family. It’s fair to say the director captures the anger amongst Florida’s black community perfectly by filming pickets and protests, as well as scrutinising the media attention from the trial in a voyeuristic sense.

Jordan’s father, Ray Davis, further highlights this in the documentary, when he reads a text message from Trayvon Martin’s father saying: “I want to welcome you to a club that none of us want to be in.”

It’s an uncomfortable watch at times, witnessing a family grieving the loss of their son in such a high-profile and very public setting, but this discomfort highlights what the US is going through when incidents like this happen.

Sometimes when watching a good documentary, it’s difficult to work out whether the film is good in its own right or because of the subject matter. But 3½ Minutes is engaging, very topical, and won the Sheffield Doc/Fest Youth Jury Award. The quality of the narrative and the editing, with the testimonies from Jordan’s friends cut perfectly, make it feel like a courtroom drama, rather than real life.

Brady Frost

Sheffield Doc/Fest Interactive

The cutting-edge jewel in the crown of Sheffield Doc/Fest is the Interactive exhibition. Running as part of the Crossover Summit since 2009, the Interactive section of the festival showcases shiny new methods and forms of documentary storytelling using technology that only existed in cartoons 15 years ago.

Sited at Millennium Gallery was the ‘traditional’ Interactive exhibition – 14 immersive games, interactive graphic novels and surreal puzzles dotted around the exhibition room furthest from the Winter Gardens.

The award for the most obscure concept in the room goes to the Interactive Haikus, created by a selection of visual artists. These were 12 strange little games. One of them, called Facing the Nameless, included rotating 3D renders of the deceased face of an unidentified dead body found somewhere in the US. After clicking on the face, the screen changed to a street-view image of where their body was found and a short description of their belongings, along with the sudden real life picture taken in the morgue. Pretty freaky stuff.

Other haikus had you infinitely unzipping zips, playing a 3D cat’s cradle and populating an imaginary town by making different noises. All of these can be found at interactivehaiku.com.

Right in the middle of the room was a small, white, inflatable igloo with a sofa and a large widescreen telly. This was Syncself 2, an installation that proves we really do live in the future, or at least shows us what we can expect to find there.

Karen Palmer, artist and free runner, has created a neurogame where you control the focus and state-of-mind of an on-screen parkour character. The headset you wear picks up your brainwaves. If you’re not focused, calm or determined enough then the character won’t make the jump.

A few tips from the lady running the show included accessing positive and inspiring aspects of your life and concentrating on what motivates you. It was an incredible experience and something I imagined telling my great-grandchildren about while they’re nonchalantly flying drones around the garden using only their mind.

The second part of the exhibition was the Virtual Reality Arcade in Site Gallery. Entering a bright orange room, we were confronted by nine small groups of people standing around in different states of glee and confusion. Many were making awkward and bizarre movements wearing a strange yet recognisable VR headset.

Oscillate by Brendan Walker, theme park ride designer and expert in neurostimulation, was a really simple way of creating overwhelming vertigo. I sat on a swing heavily riveted to the gallery ceiling wearing a Daft Punk style headset. Straight off, my legs disappeared. Swing technique ruined, all I could hear was disconcerting laughter as my jerky swing lurched from side to side. The headset had changed the room into a 3D Windows 95 screensaver with gaping doorways leading to an infinite blue void, a little bit like the afterlife in the film Beetlejuice. Extremely dizzying.

Hola World by Oscar Raby was a little bit calmer. Housed in a room off to the side, there was always a small queue of quietly open-mouthed people watching the participants. Two could take part at once, wearing a headset and facing away from each other. They were swiping and swishing, clutching and chucking, slowly spinning around and looking off into the distance. Wearing the headset, I was suddenly transported to a tropical island. Steel drums were playing and a digital red sea stretched off into the distance. From the island side, a conveyor belt of electrical items were being dumped on my head. It was clear this had to be stopped.

Amazingly, my limbs didn’t disappear in this world. My hands could be made out, shimmery and see-through, in front of me. By carefully swiping you could latch onto some of the electrical junk flowing down the conveyor belt and catapult it back to the island with a swoosh.

It felt giddy being immersed in this virtual world for the first time. I suspect we will all visit these colourful landscapes as their pixels become less and less visible over the years.

Alex Fenton-Thomas