The Death of Dontre Hamilton

Family of Milwaukee man shot by police finds strength in organizing



When Blood Is at the Doorstep director Erik Ljung first heard about the death of Dontre Hamilton, who was shot and killed by a Milwaukee Police Department officer in April 2014, he had no idea he would spend the next three years shadowing the family on its quest for justice. The California native, who’d worked mostly in video journalism before this, began to document the initial rallies, but the idea of putting together a full-length doc never crossed his mind.

Hamilton’s family – mother Maria, and brothers Nate and Dameion – at first had trouble distinguishing Ljung from the other Milwaukee news crews pummeling them with cameras. Little by little, Ljung and the Hamiltons began to connect, which led to The Blood Is at the Doorstep, an in-depth look at a family’s struggle for meaning in the wake of a senseless tragedy.

Over the next few years, the Hamilton family became leaders in a national movement for police reform. Initial protests turned into neighborhood canvassing, as the family learned to use persistent organizing to get answers about why Dontre, who’d been napping peacefully in a public park at the time of his death, was even patted down by the officer involved – let alone shot 14 times.

Some weeks, Ljung filmed six, or even all seven days. Other times, circumstances caused him to pull away. Throughout that time, Maria Hamilton became a formidable organizer who caught the attention of the Hillary Clinton campaign. “You definitely get close to your subjects,” Ljung said. “It’s tough, too, because documenting a topic like this, you sort of absorb some of the family’s pain.”

That’s part of why it’s so significant for the piece to debut at a platform like SXSW, he said. The idea of invading this extremely difficult time in their lives only to have no one ever see the documentary was unthinkable. “There were many times throughout this when you second-guess, ‘Am I the right person to tell this story?’” Ljung said. “I just felt I owed it to the Hamilton family to see this through and make this the best it could be.”

What Ljung hopes people take away from the film – beyond police violence and reform – is that change happens at the ground level, and communities have the power to make that happen.

“I’ve seen this here in Milwaukee, it’s happening all over the country, and I think what can be taken away from the Hamilton family’s story is sometimes you just have to get out in the streets and get hands-on in your community,” he said. “Really, if you want to see change, you have to be out there and make that change happen.”


The Blood Is at the Doorstep

DOCUMENTARY FEATURE COMPETITION

Monday, March 13, 4:30pm, Alamo Ritz
Tuesday, March 14, noon, Alamo South Lamar
Thursday, March 16, 7pm, Alamo South Lamar

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

The Blood Is at the Doorstep, SXSW 2017, SXSW Film 2017, Dontre Hamilton

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