South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival – Making its world premiere in the “Documentary Spotlight” category of the Online SXSW 2021, director Garrett Zavgetis’ documentary Spring Valley (2021) takes a look at the shocking incident that polarized a nation and launched an FBI investigation. The viral video ignited conversations about excessive use of force on the population, racial motivations behind police violence, and the emotional toll that is unfairly and improperly placed upon students who experience these traumatic, life-altering, and often racially motivated assaults.
Spring Valley offers extensive information on policing in U.S. schools that I had yet to realize, such as the fact of there only being 4 hours of police academy allotted to training cadets on engaging with underage citizens, and yet somehow school policing is the fastest growing area of law enforcement. The film also uses startling statistics, such as students who are arrested at school being twice as likely to drop out. Spring Valley shows that there is more focus on law enforcement within schools than there is on offering emotional support to students and that the presence of law enforcement in school, who academically are not thoroughly trained to be there, leads to the mishandling of youth-police interactions.
In the case of the Spring Valley High School incident, this statistic of arrested students dropping out came to fruition, as the two students who were arrested dropped out of Spring Valley High School within weeks — a heartbreaking aftermath, as both students expressed in the film that they ultimately had wanted to just stay in class and thus had refused removal. For the first time on film, student Shakara describes the events of the day from her perspective, allowing her to give nuance to the reports from the school resource officer and school staff who made this otherwise quiet student out to be a disturbance to the classroom.
I was surprised to see that one of the commentators for the documentary was the officer himself, a welcome juxtaposition, story-wise, to the moral standpoint of the rest of the film. This opposing dynamic created engrossing moments, particularly during the lingering moments in his interviews where his emotions, or arguably lack thereof, were displayed. The film also follows the efforts of BLM Activist Vivian Anderson while she spearheads efforts in repealing the Disturbing School Law law and starting her youth outreach organization Every Black Girl in response to the “Spring Valley incident.”
With attention to offering opinions from both sides, in my opinion, Spring Valley offers a comprehensive overview of this isolated incident as well as the broader issues of race relations in the United States. Multiple angles of the viral video are played from different cellphones, heated debates between activist Vivian Anderson and former school resource officer Ben Fields are featured at different points in the film that prove to be tense high points in the film that all help to make Spring Valley both an informational and emotionally intense documentary.
Spring Valley reviewed as part of our South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival coverage.
7.5 out of 10
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||1 Hr. 48 Mins.