In 1999, Davy Rothbart met the Sanfords, an Afro-American family comprised of Cheryl— single-mother and matriarch— and her three children: Smurf, a teenager who deals drugs, Denise and the youngest, Emmanuel, an idealistic kid who wants to become a filmmaker. They form a dysfunctional family living 17 blocks away from the White House in Washington, D.C.
Twenty years later, after hours and hours of footage, Rothbart assembled a moving documentary that earned him awards for Best Editing at Tribeca and Woodstock Film Festival, as well as a nomination for the Truer Than Fiction Award at the Independent Spirit Awards.
17 Blocks showcases to the audience the harsh reality of this family, shot between 1999 and 2008, in the most honest way possible. This documentary features footage shot by the Sanford family, confessions by the side of the bed and eyes lighted by the hope that things will eventually get better. In addition to being a heartbreaking and authentic piece of work, and a heavy blow to the Americans that still deny that drugs, poverty and guns are an actual concern for the country, it is also a documentary of an immense value so much for the Sanford as for the viewers.
What if your home videos were made into a movie? And what if your family history would take unimaginable paths? 17 Blocks shows us that one day, our life can change unexpectedly and completely, making a 180-degree turn, for better or for worse. At the same time, it exposes how the cycle of life finds a way to repeat itself, once and again, making us wonder at the unpredictability of fate.
Without a doubt, 17 Blocks is a hidden gem of this year’s edition, a documentary that takes a slice of American life and turns it into a relevant social commentary worthy of other great works such as Bing Liu’s Minding the Gap (2018), screened last year at Americana.
Direction: Davy Rothbart
Cinematography: Zachary Shields
Subtitles: Marina Cruselles
Contact: Davy Rothbart
2019: Tribeca Film Festival – Best Editing
2019: Independent Spirit Awards – Nominated for ‘Truer than fiction’ award