While many may have the right to remain ignorant of the atrocities happening at the hands of British law enforcement, in honour of the thousands who have not been granted this privilege, this documentary ought to be screened in every school, every workplace and every home. Ken Fero’s uncensored, unrelenting feature shines a light on some of the most shocking deaths to occur in police custody, warning against the quiet complicity which allows them to go unprosecuted to this day.
Framed as a letter to the director’s son, Ultraviolence is an education in resistance that rejects the official narrative of an establishment unwilling to find itself guilty. Fero sets the scene by drawing parallels with the Iraq war, a middle finger to an authority that won’t acknowledge even the most base acts of inhumanity. But instead of accepting the verdict of those in power, the filmmaker makes jurors of the audience, offering up the evidence itself through the harrowing stories of six individuals: Brian Douglas, Jean Charles de Menezes, Paul Coker, Roger Sylvester, Harry Stanley and Nuur Saeed. We are equipped with CCTV tapes, transcripts, photographs and the heartbreaking accounts of family members, all stitched together into an airtight case that has already been overturned.
The truth feels frustratingly simple, but Fero, undeterred by a corrupt system, painstakingly and passionately illustrates his point. His message is quite literally spelt out for us, colourful block text superimposed over the images like a PowerPoint from a child who has just discovered WordArt. It’s not a piece that’s trying to be pretty: it’s consciously rejecting the kind of harmful tweaking of ugly facts that lets the real criminals off the hook. Shots of men dying in police cells are allowed to play out, the brutality unbearable. Zoomed-in footage shows a police officer smiling through a window while protestors scream out for justice. Even scenes which weren’t caught on camera are animated as reconstructions, made material. “The truth doesn’t go away”, Fero assures us, and we can see the proof, clear as day.
Released ten years after the director’s pioneering exposé Injustice, Ultraviolence is an urgent appeal to a new generation to actively remember those killed in the custody of officers who were sworn to protect. Three words, “The Endless Campaign”, flash up repeatedly onscreen, not only in solidarity with those still fighting to honour the memories of loved ones, but in the hope that we may join them.
Ultraviolence does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews and interviews from our London Film Festival 2020 coverage here.
For further information about the festival visit the official BFI website here.
Watch the trailer for Ultraviolence here: