Cy Dodson was just there with his camera.
The Emmy-nominated Longfellow area filmmaker has recently completed a short film capturing the days surrounding the death of George Floyd.
“A day after the death of George Floyd was when I started filming,” Dodson said in a recent interview. “I heard protesters going up Hiawatha, and that’s when I got my camera and walked over there.
“I ended up walking with them up to the Third Precinct, and that’s when everyone started gathering for the first time,” Dodson continued. “I didn’t know what to expect, and obviously things didn’t calm down.”
Dodson said each day just built on each other. “It just went from day to day to day. I didn’t have a clear picture of what I wanted to do with the footage I was gathering. I didn’t know if I was going to make a short film or a feature. I was seeing what was there, if there were something worth putting out there.”
For his previous films, Dodson traveled outside the state. They had no connection to Minneapolis. “This was definitely different,” he said, “walking out your front door and hitting the record button.” He said this project was also different from previous films because he looked at it as what could he do to help, rather than earning accolades or awards. “That was not a part of it,” he said.
What Dodd ended up with was a short film, “Say His Name: Five Days for George Floyd,” that focuses on the week between his killing and the arrest of Derek Chauvin, the police officer who put his knee on Floyd’s neck for nine minutes and 29 seconds.
Dodson said he called on Lindsey Seavert to be a co-producer. She had written and produced “Love Them First,” a film about a North Minneapolis school district.
“We put our heads together and got the film down to that week between George Floyd’s murder and Chauvin being charged,” Dodson said. “That helped us to focus, and just have that day by day scenario.”
“I was just filming the community, how the community comes together and what it stands for,” Dodson explained. “I did not go at it in a biased direction either way. I just let people talk, and they were willing to talk and to share their thoughts.”
His efforts resulted in a film that seems to encapsulate the emotions of fear, anger and sadness that embraced this tragedy. He also captures the dark cloud that hung over Minneapolis as a life was lost and buildings erupted in flames.
He filmed everything that was going on for those five days following Floyd’s death. “It was pretty hard, and it was difficult at first in many ways,” Dodson recalled. “The world watched George Floyd die. That’s one thing to take in. What happened after that is seeing the community flattened and torched. It was hard to go at it as non-biased. I go to those businesses; it was my restaurant, my post office.
“But at the same time, a Black man was murdered by the police. I get the anger and the hatred that comes from that. “
Dodson said he does not think justice is served, however, when businesses are burned just by their sheer proximity to the police station.
As far as any filming he might do after the Chauvin trial is over, Dodson said he is still at an exploratory stage. “It’s a difficult situation, and I am trying to figure out what my place is there, or if I have a place there. I have been talking to people in the community, but they’re in the spotlight, too.”
Dodson said he is trying to determine what stories have been told and what stories need to be told.
“Watching the trial is heavy, like living it all over again,” he said. “It’s the first time you get to see some of the people involved, and their reactions and the reactions of bystanders. It’s a sad deal all around.”
The film premiered at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival in Montana, will play at the Cleveland International Film Festival and show at the Minneapolis Saint Paul International Film Festival in mid-May.
The festival version of the film runs just under 20 minutes. Dodson was a recipient of the 2020 McKnight Fellowship in Media Arts, administered by FilmNorth, and the 2021 Jerome Hill Artist Fellowship in Film/Video & New Media. He was one of four Minnesota-based filmmakers selected by PBS to produce work as part of “The 2020 Project.” That initiative aims to support independent filmmakers in the creation of nonfiction films that push Minnesotans to question, understand and be inspired by the events of 2020. A 26-minute version of “Say His Name” will air on PBS at 9 p.m. on Memorial Day.
Dodson said it has been a strange year for everybody. As owner of Triumph Productions, a film company that specializes in creative storytelling for documentaries and branding content for corporations and nonprofits, he had a full slate planned.
“At the beginning of the year, I was starting to work with a nonprofit in California that sends nurses, volunteers and supplies all over the world to developing countries. I was part of filming all this, and I was headed to the Marshall Islands. That was going to be my year’s work. And then the pandemic hit.”
And then the George Floyd tragedy happened. “I felt like it was my obligation to capture this and share what we’re all feeling,” Dodson said.