PARK CITY, UTAH – JANUARY 18: Director Yance Ford introduces the “Power” premiere at Library Center Theatre. (Photo by Chad Salvador/Shutterstock for Sundance Film Festival)
By Annie Lyons
Power begets power. Perhaps fittingly, that notion underscores Power, director Yance Ford’s essay film interrogating the origins of policing in the United States. Screening as part of the Sundance Film Festival’s Premieres section, the documentary premiered on January 18, 2024, at the Library Center Theatre in Park City, UT.
The film marks Ford’s directorial return to the Sundance Film Festival following his devastating documentary Strong Island, which won the 2017 U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Storytelling. Beginning in 2020, Power stemmed from a set of questions about the role of police in our society, Ford shares in his introduction — “and the fact that I spent much of that summer like many of you watching police brutalize protesters around the country and around the world after the murder of George Floyd.”
He expands on the thought in the film’s post-premiere discussion, explaining how the shape of the documentary’s thesis came through seeing “the pattern of policing from America move outward into the world.” Television coverage of both national and international protests during 2020 proved essential to this idea. “We also did insane amounts of research and talked to incredibly smart people about the body of work that they had developed that looked at the way American policing had been exported to different places in the world,” he notes.
That breadth of research translates on screen. Interspersing interviews with his own thoughtful words, Ford weaves together a tapestry of archives in Power, including everything from police training videos and bodycam footage to propaganda films and political speeches. Divided into titled thematic sections, Power scrutinizes the history of American policing as slave patrols, frontier militias, and union busters, then considers its rapid unchecked expansion over the past century.
“In an essay film like this, one of my favorite things about it is you can’t obviously look for a conventional three act-structure,” editor Ian Olds says. “I always think about it as an architecture of meaning, so how are you finding it in a structure that can accumulate power over time? This film was structurally built, not in a linear fashion, but in more of a circular or a spiral kind of form where you try to circle around a theme and deepen it every time.”
The result is an expansive, timely film that left audience members eager to engage the filmmaking team about the issue — particularly, what comes next and what can be done. When asked about policing’s ties to existing laws, Ford remarks, “I think that we need the people who are responsible, the people who we elect to represent us, to write new and different laws about American policing. I think that there isn’t a politician or a mayor or a town supervisor that does not have the power to tell their police departments how to do their jobs. There are just many, many, many of them who refuse to do so.”
“We really did want to focus on this 300-year arc of police history in the United States,” Ford says. “And we hope at the end of the film, you will take away [policing’s] continuing expansion. It’s like a bubble, right? It just keeps getting bigger.”
To see more from the 2024 Festival, click here.