LFF 2020: Ultraviolence – Review

Release Date – TBC, Cert – N/A, Run-time – 1 hour 35 minutes, Director – Ken Fero

Documentary exposing deaths in prisons, and on the streets, caused by police brutality and the effects that they have had.

The brief text-filled trailer for Ultraviolence claims that this is a film that the police and politicians don’t want you to see, the film marks one of those few occasions where this may actually be true. Ken Fero’s film takes an unflinching look at a number of deaths in police custody, caused by police brutality. “It’s a powerful thing the truth” is stated at one point after multiple instances of CCTV footage, archive pieces, interviews, protest footage and more, “and it can’t go away. It’s been here since day one and will be there until the day I die”. This is a film made to expose the shocking, often heavily uncomfortable, truth behind the unjust deaths in police custody, over 2000 in the last 50 years. The actions that are being taken to receive justice for them and how in so much time so little has changed – this film has been in the works for ten years, and serves as a follow-up to Fero’s (and Tariq Mehmood’s) 2001 feature Injustice.

The film is bold. It’s quick. It jumps right to the point and doesn’t stop for breath. It’s not afraid to shy away from the heavy details and at times may very much be an uncomfortable watch, but a necessary one. At one point we witness the slow death of Christopher Alder, literally left to curl up and die on the floor of the police station reception. It’s impossible to look away, no matter how much you want to. As the seemingly lengthy process continues, and the film covers more acts of police brutality; often racially provoked attacks, you can’t help but feel the same fiery anger and rage that the film burns brightly throughout its short 75 minute run-time.

“Here we watch death happen. It is not cinematic, it is brutal”. This is a film concerned with what it’s showing, about trying to send a message. It’s a timely film and that makes it all the more powerful. The lack of recreations and use of archival footage only increases the impact on the viewer. Archival footage helps to tell the narrative of each instance and point that the film covers, telling individual narratives while also helping to create an overarching (nonchronological) story of unfortunate never-changing. Meanwhile, interviews form a further emotional connection with the subjects causing the film to pack and even grander punch, and protest scenes put you right in the centre of it all. You get caught up within the action, emotion and anger and the film argues its point more than effectively thanks to the way it structures itself and displays its points.

This is a film that knows precisely what it wants to do and does precisely that with all the information and resources it can possibly get. Not wasting any time and coming from a personal, yet unified, angle. Fero’s narration throughout acts as a letter to his son, encouraging him to stand up against violence and injustice from the police. To prevent further inequalities in the court system, and to stop them from defending the police, despite proof against them. It’s an angered letter, and one that is open to everyone while still having that highly personal feel to it from father to son. This is a finely constructed letter of “powerful… truth”, one that captures many harsh, discomforting truths and puts the viewer in the centre to see it all. The pain and the injustice, there seems no other way to describe it. It’s a film that needs to be seen to truly understand and feel the true extent of, and even words can’t properly prepare someone for some of the content. Much of which comes from the pacing and style of Fero’s filmmaking, structure and the editing that contributes to the overall power of the piece.

Ultraviolence is shocking, emotional, sometimes uncomfortable, but most of all it’s angry. Personal to the filmmaker as he speaks to his son and the viewer it’s not an easy watch, but certainly a finely made one that’s as quickly edited as it is to its urgent messages.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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