Fruitvale director Ryan Coogle. Photo: Eugene Hernandez
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Each year in Utah, the Sundance Film Festival offers an introduction to new crop of young filmmakers. In the case of Ryan Coogler, the festival has found a director with quite a backstory. The man behind Fruitvale, Coogler is a former college football player who eventually discovered filmmaking as an outlet.
"I was a little short for a receiver," Coogler admitted in a conversation on the Film Society's Daily Buzz with Eugene Hernandez.
While in college, a professor impressed with his writing suggested that Ryan Coogler give screenwriting a try. He thought that perhaps his calling was a career in medicine, but in time embraced the idea that he could have a greater impact by telling stories.
With Fruitvale, he's found a topic that is close to him. The story of Oscar Grant, the tragic victim of excessing police force, is one that hit close to home for Coogler, a resident of the East Bay near San Francisco. The filmmaker opens his film with cell phone footage of Grant—the same age as the director and from the same neighborhood—being brutally beaten by local cops.
Coogler explained that he was motivated by the protests and riots sparked by the shocking incident.
"I saw it and I was affected by it and wondered what I could do to put that story out there in a way that could shine some light on the situation of police brutality," Coogler said on the radio show.
He hopes that his film will invite viewers to reconsider the way they may judge people like Oscar. Namely, African American kids in his own city. While he acknowledges that California's liberal Bay Area is diverse, he added that some in the region are still grappling issues of race.
"As a filmmaker," Coogler said, making movies is "my outlet to get my frustrations out and to ask questions."
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