With expensive blockbusters and art-house independent films dominating the entertainment industry, documentary filmmaking has wrongfully taken a back seat in the eyes of American audiences. Instead, documentary features are charming smaller audiences at various film festivals across the country. Premiering at the 2017 SXSW Film Festival, “The Blood is at the Doorstep” follows the pain, fight and activism of a grieving family after an unjustified death among their clan.
Directed by Erik Ljung, this documentary feature dives into the aftermath of the 2014 murder of Dontre Hamilton, an unarmed black man, by a police officer in a local park of Milwaukee. While the police department chose to focus on Hamilton’s battle with schizophrenia as justification for the encounter, “The Blood is at the Doorstep” takes the story in a different direction. The narrative is told through the eyes of the Hamilton family as they rise up against the Milwaukee Police Department and become a beacon of hope for many communities across the United States that have unfortunately seen similar events transpire. Fueled by intimate and enthralling footage that can’t be seen anywhere else, the film balances hard-hitting journalism and the humanity of the Hamiltons’ fight.
The most important attribute of this feature is the filmmaking team’s ability to catch every single moment after the initial encounter on camera. As every great filmmaker knows, “show don’t tell” is a fundamental principle for the visual medium. Ljung puts absolutely every event that he possibly could on screen, and it is unbelievable to witness. In times of stressful moments where perspective can change the narrative, Ljung lets the footage speak for itself with little to no editing. This allows the audience to form their own
“The Blood is at the Doorstep” also displays the most accurate depiction of Milwaukee I have ever seen on film. Aside from the sweeping aerial shots of downtown and rural areas of the city, the representation of the community is Ljung’s most impressive achievement. The diversity of perspectives that the film is able to present in a logical and easy to follow investigation is astounding. Personal accounts from key witnesses of the crime, the activists leading the movement and involved members of the Milwaukee Police Department provide a holistic picture of an event that has never been told in such a manner. Ljung’s work towards providing all perspectives surrounding Dontre Hamilton’s story is a testament to the true journalism on display.
Adjacent to the evidence presented throughout the film is a brave and awe-inspiring family of revolutionaries. Starting with their personal accounts of Dontre Hamilton’s final days, his family immediately grabs the audience’s attention and demands for their story to be heard. Nate Hamilton, Dontre’s older brother and co-founder of The Coalition for Justice, holds nothing back by sharing his unedited and raw emotion behind the tragedy. Hamilton’s mother, Maria, on the other hand, brings more grace and empathy
“The Blood is at the Doorstep” is a flawless display of documentary filmmaking that wears its heart on its sleeve. The Hamilton family chose to share their story with the world in the hopes of eliciting change. Documentaries such as these are small steps toward that conclusion. Although the story may not give audiences the ending they desire, everyone has the ability to walk away from this feature with a new perspective on the injustice that happens all too often within our communities.
Final Grade: A
“The Blood is at the Doorstep” will be having its Madison premiere on Saturday, April 7, at the Wisconsin Film Festival. Get your tickets here.