William Ford Jr. was shot and killed on April 7, 1992, an incident at the center of the documentary âStrong Island.â Something deep inside his family also died that night, and Yance Ford, one of Williamâs siblings and the filmâs director, explores that loss, exposing a grief that is profound and agonizing.
William, an unarmed, black 24-year-old teacher, was slain by Mark Reilly, a 19-year-old white man who was working at an auto body shop on Long Island. Mr. Ford had gone there after a dispute over a repair and confronted Mr. Reilly about an insult that was said to have been made earlier to Mr. Fordâs mother. A grand jury declined to indict Mr. Reilly, a decision that staggered Mr. Fordâs loved ones.
Though questions of race and justice are raised, Yance Ford more often examines how he and the rest of his middle-class family dealt, or refused to deal, with the tragedy. He keeps the camera closely trained on the faces of those whoâve suffered emotional wounds that wonât heal, and who live with regrets that are devastating. That includes himself.
The effect is intense and elegiac, even as the pace veers toward the overly deliberate, and as Mr. Reilly and some essential witnesses arenât interviewed or approached by the filmmaker; no explanation for this omission is given.
Were âStrong Islandâ a strict procedural, that exclusion would be more glaring. Yet this potent film gives equal weight to complex emotions as well as bare facts. In the same way, itâs not just the story of a manâs death, but also a study of the aftermath.