There is no way you can watch the documentary If I Die Tonight and come away not feeling something. More likely than not, the feelings you'll have will be conflicted, which is a testimony to the complexity of the issues presented in the film, and the lengths filmmaker Seyi works to address the topic of police brutality. In a lesser film, by a lesser director, the already volatile subject of police brutality could easily be presented as a one-sided screed that serves the agenda of the filmmaker. But Seyi's agenda is to get people thinking about the subject matter in ways they may have never considered before.
The primary focus of If I Die Tonight is the victims of police brutality and the advocates that work to ensure accountability on the part of the cops. The most notorious examples profiled in the film are the shooting death of Amadou Diallo, an African immigrant gunned down by New York City police officers, who mistook the unarmed man's wallet for a gun, and shot at him 41 times, Nicholas Heyward, a thirteen year-old killed by a cop, and Abner Louima, who was brutally sodomized with a broom handle by a NYPD officer. These crimes are just a few examples of innocent civilians falling victim to police action. And to be sure, that subject alone is enough to get the emotions going. But rather than only profile the family of victims of police violence, If I Die Tonight also talks to the family of police officers Patrick King and Keith Neuman, one a veteran cop and the other a rookie newlywed, both killed in the line of duty. This creates a dynamic contrast of two very different points of view that end the same--people mourning the violent loss of loved ones.
Featuring a wealth of interviews that include the fathers of Diallo and Heyward, as well as the widows of King and Neuman, If I Die Tonight covers a complex set of issues, and features dialog with people on different sides of the fence, both advocates and supporters. Some of the most compelling interviews are with black police officers speaking out against police brutality, as well as a black activist defending the actions of the cops who killed Diallo. All of this makes for a compelling, heady stew of opinions and facts that just begins to scratch the surface of how complex of an issue this really is. And the efforts to showcase a much more well-rounded and human side of the story goes a long way in earning Seyi's documentary points for not taking the easy way out.
Recommending a documentary like If I Die Tonight isn't always an easy prospect, because it certainly is not a film that can be considered entertaining in the more traditional definition of the concept. Certainly this isn't a "feel good" movie, but it is though provoking, and it does illicit and emotional response, and even more exciting is that it evokes conversation and addresses various sides of the issue. Most documentaries present one side of the story, with better docs offering just enough of the other side of the story to not be completely biased. To that end, If I Die Tonight is more like traditional journalism than so many other documentaries, which neither seeks to find any true sense of balance nor equity in the story being told.
If I Die Tonight is a good documentary in that it gives the audience several things to think about, and invites both reconsideration of previously held ideas and discourse about the wider implication of police brutality, racism and the miscarriage of justice. The film clearly has an agenda, which is to bring to light the violent actions of cops that often result in the murder of innocents, but it also is careful to present the police themselves as human beings. This is not a film for just anyone, but it is definitely a movie for people who like to be intellectually, emotionally and philosophically challenged.
The copy of If I Die Tonight that I was given to watch was a promotional screener DVD, so I can't comment on the picture quality of final product.
The copy of If I Die Tonight that I was given to watch was a promotional screener DVD, so I can't comment on the sound quality of final product.
None that I'm aware of.
This is not a documentary to watch simply to be entertained. But if you like to be challenged in ways that force to think about things in different ways, then you should watch this movie.
David Walker is the creator of BadAzz MoFo, a nationally published film critic, and the Writer/Director of Black Santa's Revenge with Ken Foree now on DVD [Buy it now]