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A Nearly Forgotten Killing

A Nearly Forgotten Killing

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Did You Know Who Fired the Gun? is the attempt to bring light into the mystery of the murder of Afro-American Bill Spann. All took place on the 13th of October in 1946 in a little store in Dothan, Alabama. With the research for this documentary, filmmaker Travis Wilkerson wanted to investigate the truth of the incident in which his great-grandfather S.E. Branch was the killer.

For that purpose he travels to Alabama. He interviews several people who were somehow involved in the incident. “I failed the most time. The most people didn’t want to speak with me,” Wilkerson stated. But eventually he found people to interview, some of his family members and residents. Those interviews are embedded in photographs and shots of the countryside (in black and white) as well as text elements and karaoke aspects. As Wilkerson explains: “The text disrupts the authority of the voice, that forces the viewer to engage rather directly and participate in a certain level.”

The music he chose should be deeply organic to the film itself. So he created the music mostly out of loops of songs he was listening to when he was driving around the countryside as he clarifies during the press conference. “The music always means to introduce a new element in the same way the text does. I always try to follow that principle when I make a film.”

Another particular element of the film is the voice with whom he himself spoke. As he pointed out, he put lots of practice in that: “I wanted to have a tone, I wanted it to be sincere and direct, I wanted it to be intimidating, I wanted it to create the feel of confessing something.”

During his research Wilkerson strongly experienced that racism is still present in today’s Alabama. To the question on how racism has changed up to today, Wilkerson replied:  “It’s less institutionally enforced. It depends where you are, in that particular rural area.” But in general it hasn’t changed at all, in his opinion: “The power relations there have never been shifted, nothing has changed. Everyone is afraid to speak, everyone is afraid to be honest. […] It’s remarkably troubling how little has changed.” During his investigation he experienced it first-hand: people followed him, people even broke into his hotel room and stole his cards.

With Did You Know Who Fired the Gun? Travis Wilkerson was actually not successful in terms of solving the murder but it brought attention to a case that was never spoken of. According to him, the movie is much about absence and the lack of information and above all on how a family destroyed another family.

Marleen Fitterer
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