On April 4, 2015, Walter Scott, an unarmed black man, was fatally shot by Michael Slager, a police officer who had stopped Scott for a nonfunctioning brake light. A shaky video taken by a witness revealed some essential facts: Scott had been running away when he was shot from behind, and Slager appeared to toss an unidentified object near Scott’s body following the shooting. But that was where the observable truth seemed to end.
Nearly 1,000 miles from the scene of the South Carolina incident, a Canadian college student watched the iPhone video. His name was Daniel Voshart, and his studies in cinematography focused on image stabilization. He applied his latest techniques to the footage and managed to stabilize a small section of the video. Suddenly, the previously blurry object was in clear view—and it appeared to be a Taser. When Voshart played back the stabilized footage, he could see Slager drop the Taser next to Scott’s body. It was potentially disturbing key evidence.
Voshart was outraged. Wanting to see Slager brought to justice for what he perceived to be a racially motivated murder and an attempted cover-up, he looped the footage into an animated GIF and posted it to Reddit. The community responded to his anger in kind. That’s when Rich Williamson, a close friend of Voshart’s, decided to start documenting the situation as it unfolded.
“The internet called for blood,” Williamson told me, “which pushed Daniel to look deeper. He felt partly responsible for the narrative of Slager planting evidence. He decided that the most complete narrative of what happened would only reveal itself by going frame by frame and taking the time to stabilize the entire video.”
Williamson’s short documentary Frame 394 bears witness to the moral quandaries that Voshart faced as a result of his efforts to elucidate the incident. When Voshart began to uncover a more ambiguous situation than the one his initial work had suggested, he found that “the internet wasn’t interested in a nuanced perspective,” Williamson said. The film lays bare the complexities of truth and justice in the age of viral media. Read more: https://www.theatlantic.com/video/index/584320/frame-394/
“Frame 394” was directed by Rich Williamson (https://www.compyfilms.com/). It is part of The Atlantic Selects, an online showcase of short documentaries from independent creators, curated by The Atlantic.