Shankar Borua’s Center Mass, A Film On Police Shootings In America

In 2008, film director Shankar Borua made Center Mass, a political documentary about police use of deadly force in America. As a foreigner in another land, Borua had to straddle the fine line in between as he attempted to dissect a very contentious issue in the American public space, an issue that sharply divides Americans into two opposing camps: pro-police and anti-police. Shot primarily in two of the largest states in America, Texas and New York, Center Mass was made with an all-American crew over a period of 18 months with the active participation of police officers (both retired and serving), academics, artists, and writers. Covering the entire gamut of issues ranging from police training to racism, this political documentary, with a first-person voice-over by Shankar Borua himself, is a deep penetrating inquiry into the professional conduct of America’s frontline representatives of the government – the police. Alongside, Borua explores the uneasy social landscape in America, a landscape of extreme contrasts with a rather long history of police brutality and highhandedness. Shankar Borua is the first filmmaker born and raised in the North-East India to make a political film in America on a highly sensitive, divisive, and emotive social issue, a film that appears very prescient now in the light of the events of 2020.

As America witnessed the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and the public uproar in the Summer of 2020 after the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, Borua teamed up with film editor Jiten Borah to make a new version of Center Mass. Although the original film was made more than a decade back after the Sean Bell 50-shot killing in Queens, New York, this 67-minute updated version, unveiled in 2022, incorporates the current dynamics vis-à-vis the killing of George Floyd by including sections from the transcript of the bodycam footage as George Floyd was being brutalized (‘I can’t breathe‘).  

The George Floyd murder trial/verdict and the conversation surrounding it makes the content of CENTER MASS very topical. At this time of great reckoning for all of us when issues of racial/social justice are resonating loudly in the public sphere, Borua’s powerful film highlights American policing, police-community relations, police accountability, and criminal justice system vis-à-vis police use of deadly force. A particularly riveting section in the film has live audio of a police shooting in Juneau, Alaska, as it unfolds and ends in a tragedy. Borua’s telephonic exchange with a reporter in Juneau investigating the shooting is a high point in Center Mass.

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Beginning this Spring, Borua, who holds a Ph.D. in Mass Communications from Texas Tech University, will participate in online colloquiums/seminars with a live Q&A session after the screening of Center Mass at a few American universities. It is significant that the first of these will be held in the Deep South in America on March 7 next at Mississippi State University hosted by the Department of Communication.

It is worth mentioning that the indefatigably independent-minded filmmaker Shankar Borua began screening his films and participated in colloquiums at universities in North America beginning 2001. Notable among them are screenings/lectures at the following campuses: City University of New York and Fordham University in New York City, University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada, Mount Holyoke College and Hampshire College in Massachusetts, Hollins College in Roanoke, Virginia, Columbia College in Chicago, University of Colorado in Colorado Springs, Humber College in Ontario, Canada, and Acadia University in Halifax, Canada.

Borua’s first film, Angst at Large, is actually considered to be the first political documentary ever made in Assam. Hailed by veteran film critic, the late Amita Malik, in The Hindustan Times, and widely seen across campuses and multiple venues in America and Canada, Angst at Large explores the principal fault lines of class and caste that impeded the Assamese nation-building process. 

Film director Shankar Borua is best known for his recent unique fiction film narratives Grief on a Sunday Morning (a film about the sexual abuse of little boys), The Curiosity Shop (a film that espouses the adoption of a girl child while depicting the abuse of women within the family unknown to the world outside) and the political musical Rongeen (Colorful) highlighting the power of participatory democracy in the face of endemic corruption and injustice.

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