Indie Grits Festival | April 12-15 2018

The BLM Bridge Protest: One Year Later

Sunday, April 15 at 1:00 PM

Feature Short: America is Waiting
Yalonda M. James | Memphis, TN | 8 min
Genre: Documentary Short

Police officers in the United States killed over 250 black people in 2016. That summer, just days after the shooting of Philando Castile, over 1,000 demonstrators blocked traffic on an interstate bridge over the Mississippi River in Memphis, Tennessee during a Black Lives Matter protest to call for an end to this violence. Activists, police officers, and other concerned citizens share thoughts on the event and reflect on how to move forward.

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Meet The Filmmaker

We asked our filmmakers some questions about them and their work. For further questions, join us at the designated post-screening Q+A!

Yalonda James

1. What is your connection to the South?

I was born and raised in Spartanburg, South Carolina. I’m a 2001 graduate from the University of South Carolina (Upstate). I’ve worked for newspapers as a photojournalist and video producer at The Post & Courier (Charleston, SC), The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, NC) and The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN). 

2. Where did you get your inspiration for this work?

My passion is covering social justice issues. In Memphis, TN, where I’m currently based, I’ve been following the Black Lives Matter movement. The summer of 2016 was emotionally heavy due to the continuous graphic footage circulating on social media of black men being gunned down during encounters with police officers. The black community was fed up and it had the right to be. Images of Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Walter Scott, and Sam DuBose were still fresh in my mind.

In addition, a 19-year-old man, Darrius Stewart, was shot and killed by Memphis police officer Connor Schilling after a traffic stop in July 2016 in Memphis. Stewart was a passenger in a friend’s vehicle and didn’t have identification when the officer asked for one. He was placed in the back of a squad car as Schilling ran warrants. After the officer verified the warrants, police said, Schilling opened the car door to handcuff Stewart. The Memphis Police Department stated Stewart kicked the door and attacked Schilling, striking him with the handcuffs. Schilling chased him and, according to video, they tussled on the ground. Schilling fatally shot Stewart during the incident.

I’d covered multiple protests, Stewart’s funeral, press conferences with Stewart’s family, attorneys, and police, and vigils. So, as the one year anniversary of Stewart’s death approached, the nation saw videos of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile being killed by the hands of law enforcement. Then, came live reports of an active shooter in Dallas during protests against police-involved shootings. The incident left five police officers dead.

During that weekend, a group of protesters led a march through downtown Memphis to the Hernando de Soto Bridge and shut down traffic for nearly four hours. I followed the action from its beginning at the National Civil Rights Museum, then, to FedExForum, and last, to the bridge.

3. How did you start making films? 

I studied filmmaking at the University of South Carolina (Upstate) and made short student films there. Years later, I shot videos for The Charlotte Observer as a staff photojournalist. I thoroughly enjoyed shooting and editing stories. When I landed in Memphis nearly five years ago, I surrounded myself with incredible documentarians. They inspire me to tell stories beyond the still image. So, I’m currently in the middle of a project for MLK50, the fiftieth anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s death. I’m interviewing men who marched with Dr. King during the 1968 Sanitation Strike in Memphis. The wall in my home office is a storyboard comprised of Post-it notes. I have an abundance of work ahead of me.

4. Did anything interesting or funny happen on set during the shooting?

It was a beautiful and moving moment to witness hundreds participating in a peaceful demonstration on the bridge and no-one was injured or arrested.

5. What do you look forward to the most during Indie Grits?

I look forward to returning home to visit family and friends, meeting new people at the festival, and being in the epicenter of Gamecock Country. Go Cocks!!

6. Why should someone see your film? 

Festival goers should see my documentary short, “The BLM Bridge Protest: One Year Later,” because it’s an important piece of work that shows why black lives matter and that the relationship between law enforcement and the community needs greater improvement. Blacks shouldn’t feel their lives are threatened when they have encounters with police officers walking down a street or during a traffic stop.

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Amarillo Ramp
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Bless These Sounds Under the City – “THE SLEEPING 8”
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