This documentary tells the true story of artist Blake Byers' experience being profiled and beaten by a police officer. His crime? Smoking a cigarette. Join us as we follow Blake Byers' 3-year journey through a broken legal system as he tries to defend his innocence. While we focus on the intimate details of Blake's story, we also interview expert witnesses and police whistleblowers to gain an understanding of the bigger picture, and how police violence has become a widespread American crisis in an age of increased law enforcement militarization.
Glendale, California. 2014.
Blake Byers takes a break from painting in a friend's studio. He walks into a convenience store; buys a pack of cigarettes. Upon exiting, a homeless man asks to bum a smoke. Blake is happy to oblige.
Moments later, an unmarked car approaches. The driver rolls down the window and tells Blake that it's illegal to smoke in Glendale. Blake explains that as an out-of-towner he was unaware and immediately puts out his cigarette. It's then Blake notices a shotgun resting on the driver's lap. The driver, dressed in civilian clothes, demands to see Blake's ID. Naturally intimidated, Blake refuses. The next thing he knows, the driver's exiting the car and slamming Blake to the ground - the impact fracturing his ribs and causing him to defecate himself.
Blake would later find out that his paint covered clothes, combined with his kindness in giving a homeless man a cigarette, had gotten him profiled as a perpetrator of a drug-related crime. When the overzealous undercover officer failed to find any illegal substances on Blake, instead of admitting his fault, he doubled down and arrested Blake on the charge of "resisting arrest". The question remains, how can one be arrested for "resisting arrest" when there was no reason to be arrested in the first place?
Glendale, California. 2017.
After 11 plea bargains, the time has come for Blake to appear in court to prove his innocence...
DUSTIN CURTIS MURPHY is an award-winning filmmaker from California, now residing in the UK. With over two decades of experience in the film industry, he has written and sold several feature screenplays, and successfully crowdsourced four seasons of a web-series. Recently he's written and directed several microbudget narrative short films which focus on sociopolitical issues. This is his first foray into documentary filmmaking.
Currently, on the festival circuit is his film NORA, which focuses on healthcare in the UK. It premiered at the British Film Institute late 2018 as the centrepiece of a TEDTalk event. To date, it has won 14 awards at 10 festivals. Previously his Best Short Drama winner, AVERY ROAD, combined the issues of women's rights and gun violence to focus on the polarization of American values and its impact on society. His films WITHOUT REGRET and AVERY ROAD can be found streaming on Amazon Prime.
Dustin is also the key organizer for Kino Short Film - a London based indie filmmakers collective which hosts regular short film open-mics and he is the festival director of The People's Film Festival.
Find more information and view more of his portfolio at dcmfilmmaker.com.
What We're Asking For: Completion funds.
We’re raising funds for 3 items:
- A rough cut of the film is complete, but to finish this project we need to create a series of animations to fill in the gaps, recreating what took place that fateful day in Glendale, CA. Animation is not easy. It takes a large time commitment to create just a few minutes worth of frame by frame animation. I’ve been in touch with various animators who’ve come to the table with amazing unique ideas. From stop-motion animation created entirely from cigarette ash, to a vintage black and white cartoon look and feel where Blake is depicted as a walking talking cigarette, I’ve forged relationships that will make these animations possible on a scalable budget depending on the amount we raise. The more we raise, the better polished the animation will be.
- Free legal advice only goes so far. Telling this story could be a tremendous risk for my production company. The system has already done so much wrong in the way they treated Blake that I wouldn't be surprised if they continued their campaign turning their focus to my film’s unflattering depiction of their behaviour. But don't worry, as a donor you will not be held liable. That responsibility lies solely with my production company.
Film Festival Distribution & Strategy
- In order for this important story to have an impact, we need to get it in front of as many eyes as possible. I’ve previously had success at many international film festivals, both with official selections and a few wins. However, for this project I’ll be working with Festival Formula - a consultancy company which focuses on maximizing filmmakers chances of success on the competitive film circuit worldwide. The good folks at Festival Formula have already seen an early cut of the film and here’s what they said about this project's potential:
I've watched several pieces of Dustin’s work and this has to be the strongest piece I’ve seen. This hits the ground running and never lets up, it's a powerful piece and gutsy as hell. There's a spikiness to it that translates into the zeitgeist right now, police and state brutality is everywhere, so this documentary has a place to be seen on the circuit worldwide - it’s a conversation starter for sure with a very loud and important voice.
- Katie McCullough
Director // Founder // www.festivalformula.com
Why This Film Matters:
Instances of police brutality happen every day in America. It’s my hope that Blake’s story will act as a pilot episode for a series of half-hour Netflix style documentaries each shining a light on a different tale of modern-day police corruption.
There are literally thousands of compelling stories worth telling. I chose to start with Blake’s because of the unbelievable twists and turns of his case (truth truly is stranger than fiction), and because of the unfettered access he gave me. It’s easy to point the finger at the most extreme instances of police brutality; instances that result in innocent men, women and children being murdered. However, there is more to this issue than just the most shocking headlines. Here are a few statistics to chew on:
According to the US Department of Justice:
- 84% of police officers have stated that they have directly witnessed a fellow officer using more force than was necessary.
- On average, in the United States, a police officer takes the life of a citizen every 7 hours.
- Police Officers are responsible for 1 in every 13 gun deaths (that’s more than 6,000 people who have been killed by police officers since 2013).
- 22% of those victims are unarmed.
- 97% of the cases of police brutality that were tracked in 2015 did not result in any officer involved being charged with a crime, including instances where the police officer went so far as to kill a citizen.
- Police officers are indicted in fewer than 1% of killings, however, the indictment rate for civilians involved in a killing is 90%.
- 65% of people in county or city jails have not been convicted of a crime, but they remain in jail awaiting their court date because they can’t afford to pay bail.
- Almost 90% of all criminal cases in America are now plea deals.
Millions of people are now pleading guilty because district attorneys all over the country, are saying “listen we’ll let you out now on time served if you just say you’re guilty”. This strategy of plea bargains is resulting in many innocent people being named guilty without due process of the law. The presence of unnecessary innocent people stuck in the jail system is costing taxpayers billions.
The story I tell in my documentary of Blake’s first-hand experience acts as a case study to illustrate these broader issues.
Ask the community
If you're an animator and you're passionate about the topic of this documentary, are you interested in working on this project for free or for a reduced rate? If so please message DustinCurtisMurphy directly.
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