Did You Wonder Who Fired the Gun?
Panorama | Documentaries
Over 15 years, Travis Wilkerson has doggedly pursued a form of radically political filmmaking that excoriates the structures of American power, but never before has he made a film this personal, locating the sickness of whiteness within his own family history. Wilkerson narrates the story of two families, one white and one black, and it’s one hell of a story. The filmmaker’s great-grandfather, S.E. Branch, shot a man named Bill Spann one Alabama night in 1946 and never served a day in prison. Wilkerson frames his masterful film as a mystery investigation into this family secret, returning to his hometown to uncover the truth. On the way, the road diverts to an oral history of Southern racism, amounting to a ghost chronicle of haunted places where time has stood still.
Radical filmmaking demands radical aesthetics, and Wilkerson, delivering the angry voiceover himself, mostly films his landscapes and interview scenes in stark black and white, deviating for lengthy travelling shots painted in red, camera pointed out the front window of his car, as he drives the Alabama highways on a search that comes to threaten his own safety. Spann’s life and death are shown to be typical among Southern blacks in the 1940s, but as with all good historical inquiries, Wilkerson’s powerful film speaks volumes to the present—and demands that we never forget.