Films were there for 19-year-old Haitian-American Kristopher Dorval during a tough year of his life. A series of movies throughout that year helped lift his spirits and clarify what his life purpose was.
“Film has been such a crucial aspect of my existence,” said Dorval, and when the summer of protest emerged last year, he turned the camera on protestors hitting the streets in his own backyard to fight against the killings of Black people by the police. In his short documentary, “The MVMT,” he focuses on the organization Long Island Peaceful Protest (LIPP) and their marches. We spoke with the filmmaker to discuss why he created this project, what it was like filming confrontational scenes and what eye-opening realizations he came across when making the film.
So why did you create this short documentary?
At first, I had a bit of a hard time just trying to figure out what it is I wanted to do, because I couldn’t just go out there and start filming. When the protests started happening, it was just a thing to do. I love film and I wanted to start filming. So it just started off as this simple idea. As I continued to go out more, and saw new things and met new people, the idea of turning this into a short film kind of grew, especially when I joined Long Island Peaceful Protest (LIPP).
But at what point did you say, “This can actually be a documentary?” What was that moment?
If I had to choose [a moment], it would be in Mineola when Mike and Jerry, two protestors from LIPP, were arrested for peaceful protesting in Roslyn and given summons. At the very beginning of the film, you see LIPP is having a peaceful protest in Roslyn and the effects of that protest are shown within Mineola when three days after you have two protestors, Jerry and Mike, being arrested and taken from their homes and put into holding for one night for peaceful protesting. Being there, it was really never-racking. I understood the gravity of the situation that I was in, and knowing that, I knew what I was capturing was something really important for people within Long Island – people of color on Long Island specifically.
Why did you decide to specifically focus on Long Island? There are often protests in the city and the boroughs, so why did you choose here?
At first, it was strictly out of convenience. The very first day I went out to start filming protests, it was on June 13 last year. I was planning to go to the city, but I went online to see if there were any protests happening close by, so I wouldn’t have to spend so much money going into the city. Then I realized there was a protest happening in Rockville Centre. Then I started to go to more on Long Island. Then when I joined up with LIPP, the rest was history. For somebody who grew up in a place like Elmont, for the past 19 years, I’ve been living in a bubble. I’ve never really toured the island like. So to really see and explore this place, it really opened my eyes.
What was the most eye-opening realization for you doing this project?
The biggest revelation was the segregation, the economics of Long Island specifically that divide people of color and white people. The divide is staggering and to see that not only in places like Hempstead and Garden City, but in places like Freeport and Huntington, Manhasset and Franklin Square, it’s eye-opening. That’s something I always saw growing up, but I never really thought about or realized it up until last year. It’s a really huge difference, and when you get to the demographics it’s crazy. You have a bigger percentage of white people living in these nice, lavish amazing neighborhoods. Take for example, Munsey Park in Manhasset. Honestly, it’s one of the most beautiful neighborhoods I’ve ever seen. I was driving in that town for a protest. As I was driving throughout the neighborhood, I’m not gonna lie, it almost brought a tear to my eye. Seeing the beauty of that neighborhood and then thinking back to a place like Franklin Square or Hempstead where people of color aren’t able to live as nice as that or build income like that, it’s heartbreaking.
What was it like filming those confrontational moments between the protestors and the residents?
Honestly, from my stand point I kind of have two ways I see that. When you’re with LIPP, you’re prepared to talk with people who are on the opposing side. So in one aspect, it’s like another day at the job. I’m expecting for people to come up and say certain things and be ignorant and have opposing viewpoints. But from another stand point, it was eye-opening to see that people had these ideologies that were quite invalid in every aspect. Seeing and hearing that, whether it be through certain comments or body language, was eye-opening.
Going back to more of the confrontational scenes, there was a scene where Terrel was taken away by the cops. Then there was another scene where protestors were taken in by the police. What was it like filming those scenes and what was everyone’s understanding of what was happening at that moment?
There are two scenes that take place in Commack. One is in the middle and the second one is the ending.
Yeah, the ending was crazy.
Yeah, you think it was crazy just watching it. Being there in person was a totally different experience. They [the police] immediately snatched Terrel as soon as we hit that pavement. They went to Terrel and Mike. It’s not shown in the film, it will be shown later on. I’m planning to release more stuff. It was intense for me because I had no idea what was gonna happen next. I didn’t know if the police were waiting there to round everybody else up. That day honestly was traumatic, seeing my friends being brutalized and beat down and hearing the screams of so many people all for something that could’ve been handled so easily. A few days after that it really stuck with me. We’ve been able to bounce back, but those days, especially the second time in Commack, is one that I won’t forget.
So why did you make this film in black and white?
From a technical standpoint, I shot the film on a Nikon D5200 camera and in color it did not look as good (laughs). So choosing to shot it in black and white was a better option. But, for symbolic reasons the fight that we were fighting last year, and basically still fighting to this day, it’s very much the same fight that we fought back in the 60s and 70s. When you look at footage from that time, it’s all in black and white. Things may be different, but at the same time, they are the same, so I wanted to showcase that.
Are you nervous, or at one point were you nervous, about how people would respond to the documentary?
Yeah, I would say what I would be a tad bit nervous about it, due to the quality. For somebody who wants to make films, well for me personally, quality is something that matters a lot to me. At the same time, I knew that I would be able to create something that people would enjoy, appreciate and watch. I think I was more nervous at the reactions of certain people, but honestly, I like that. I like the fact that this film doesn’t garner everybody’s love. I like the fact that I’m able to ruffle up some feathers because quite frankly, I’m not here to play nice. People need to see what’s really going on, on Long Island. People need to see what happened last year. If anything, I’m actually nervous that the film won’t go viral.
So what will be your next project? What are you looking to film next, more protest-related documentaries?
Well, the goal right now really is to make this film go viral in order to build an audience. After that, I’m going to probably have a discussion about the film and then release a compilation on everything else I shot, basically unreleased footage. After that, it’s back to what I was trying to do before all of this happened. The idea for my first feature film is already locked in.