17 Blocks

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You can't take your eyes off 17 Blocks for even a second. The raw, home video footage documentary offers an intimate view into the lives of the Sanford-Durants, a Black family struggling to find joy and stability in Southeast Washington D.C. So many of the documentaries we watch now are slick mash-ups of stylized reenactments and moody voiceovers, assuring us that history can be mapped neatly into an orderly sequence. 17 Blocks makes no such tidy promises. Instead, gritty, endearing moments rush in: A pair of brothers, 14-year-old Smurf and nine-year-old Emmanuel, play basketball in a neighborhood park. A friend helps Emmanuel put a caucasian skin tone bandage over a scrape. Their mother, Cheryl, points at an old photo of herself and says "Isn't that a pretty girl right there?" "That's you!" Emmanuel shouts. "That's not me!" Cheryl says. Emmy-award-winning director Davy Rothbart stitched these moments together, alternating between powerful portraits of poverty and warm moments of the family persevering, and cheering one another on. But, like I said, if you look away for a moment you're bound to miss some important detail to the puzzle that is this family's history. What happened to them? Well, a lot of things happened to them.

  by Suzette Smith

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