Magazine article Screen International

'Did You Wonder Who Fired the Gun?': Locarno Review

Magazine article Screen International

'Did You Wonder Who Fired the Gun?': Locarno Review

Article excerpt

The director’s family history on the wrong side of racism is an intense, hypnotic experience

Dir/scr: Travis Wilkerson. US. 2017. 90mins

One family’s incendiary history assumes the dimensions of a James Ellroy novel in Did You Wonder Who Fired The Gun?, an intensely personal work from documentarian Travis Wilkerson (An Injury To One, Machine Gun Or Typewriter, etc). His forensic examination of the past speaks directly to the present in an unsettling film that confronts the enduring racism at the heart of American society.

In 1946, Wilkerson’s great grandfather S. E. Branch shot dead a black man called Bill Spann in Dothan, Alabama.

Performed live as a one-man multimedia show at Sundance and the True/False Film Festival, Did You Wonder should now travel more fully as a complete feature film with soundtrack narration from Wilkerson. It is a more radical, experimental piece than, say, I Am Not Your Negro but it shares themes and emotions that could allow it to connect on a more modest level with a similarly committed audience.

Wilkerson begins with a consideration of writer Harper Lee and her classic novel To Kill A Mockingbird, represented here by scenes from the 1962 screen version starring Gregory Peck as saintly white lawyer Atticus Finch. Wilkerson warns us that his film is not about a “white saviour” but is a “white nightmare story”.

In 1946, Wilkerson’s great grandfather S. E. Branch shot dead a black man called Bill Spann in Dothan, Alabama. It was a case of first degree murder and yet there is no record of charges ever being filed. Did Branch get away with murder? What kind of man was he? What is known about his victim?

A whole series of unanswered questions sets Wilkerson on an investigation in which he is as dogged as any film noir detective. …

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