Review by Dan Skip Allen
Documentaries can range from inside looks at the wild creatures who live in the world to never before told stories of people nobody ever heard of. A good documentary gets inside its subject matter. 17 Blocks is an up-close-and-personal look at a family in the inner city of Northeast Washington, D.C., only a short distance away from the Capital, but in actuality a million miles away.
The subject of 17 Blocks is the Sanford family from Northeast Washington, D.C. They struggle with inner-city violence, financial strife, gang banging, and drug addiction. Like any family of any walk of life, the Sanford family strives for a better life for themselves. Drama always creeps in and tears families apart. This family is no different than any other.
Emanuel Durant is one of the sons and he gets himself into trouble and his life ends tragically. The family has to deal with his loss and how to move forward after a difficult time in their lives. The grieving will never end. It's just a matter of taking things day by day and week by week. Life still goes on for the rest of the family members. He had so much to look forward to in his young life, but he got involved with the wrong crowd and lost his life.
20 years of documenting this family had led to a lot of footage from when the children were young up until they were adults. They have experienced quite a lot of different scenarios regarding their lives. The death of Emmanuel hurt them all tremendously. He was only 25 years old. Finding a silver lining in the story is the key. The Sanfords gravitate toward religion and the Lord.
In a city like Washington, D.C., the crime rate is high. The police deal with quite a few homicides every day. The death of Emmanuel is just one of many. The police don't have time to spend on one unsolved murder when they have so many more to deal with. The family has to accept this sad fact of life. They move on but never forget his life.
The family moves around and lives in different places and that's a fact of having many children and not having enough money to take care of them. Having loved this sort of life, I can say it's not easy. It's hard on the kids growing up and makes the kids the sole responsibility of the parents. The parents have no life except to take care of their kids and try to provide for them. It's not a fun life for anybody involved.
The documentary bounces back and forth, so the story can get a little confusing at times. It goes from the grandmother to her kids to the grandkids. Twenty years can be a lot of time to document. The filmmakers have a lot of footage to work with. In the end, this documentary is a deep dive inside this family. It gives a serious look at the lives of people in the inner city and how things can go wrong very quickly.
17 Blocks streams in virtual cinemas beginning February 19. A list of participating locations can be found here.