On July 6 of this year, Philando Castile was fatally shot by a Minnesota police officer during a routine traffic stop. It was just 10 days before what would have been his 33rd birthday. And in an effort to honor his birth, and subsequently his death, three filmmakers took to the city of St. Paul to capture what would later become their short film, "Happy Birthday Philando Castile."
Speaking to Castile's family and friends (who affectionately remembered him as "Chedda") and following the community's tributary celebration as well, director Mohammad Gorjestani, producer Malcolm Pullinger, and executive producer Ephraim Walker saw handheld prayer circles, drill teams and drum squads, paintings calling for justice, T-shirts memorializing his life, balloon releases, and both civilians and law enforcement alike coming together to honor Castile.
As friends and family gathered to light the candles of a birthday cake, they one-by-one revealed hard-to-swallow truths: "This brother did everything by the book, except for the fact that -- like myself -- he got a wide-set nose," one said. Another, "I think that his death showed our community that it can happen to anybody."
As the second installment in the filmmakers' "The Happy Birthday Project" -- following that of an Oscar Grant tribute -- Gorjestani told REVOLT:
"We're hoping that these films push the lens past the polarizing dialogues and the sensationalized coverage and frame these tragedies inside of empathy, the value of human life, and what it is like to experience the deep grief that loved ones will feel for the rest of time. Hopefully this project can be a catalyst in creating common ground and dialogue around the value of human life. I couldn't think of a better way to frame this goal than by creating these films on the birthdays of the individuals who have been killed. What is more universal than birth, and the birthday which is meant to be a celebration of life's continuation?"
"The thrust of the series is to show the humanity of not only the victim, but the family of the people that were killed and to try to use that to create some empathy; not only within our community but within everyone. I think that what people don't understand about this whole movement and Black Lives Matter is we’re just saying look, these are people that are dying in the streets. We should be sad… We should mourn these people… Most of their deaths were uncalled for and we need to do something to change the way that people are being policed and being killed out there."
"Happy Birthday Philando Castile" airs on REVOLT today (September 8) at 1 p.m. ET.