The French New Wave director Jean-Luc Godard once said that “every fictional film is a documentary of its actors.” This statement is true, but it doesn’t go far enough. One must say that every fictional film is always a documentary. It’s not just the actors who are moving in (or being sculpted by) time, but also objects, clouds, animals, and locations. For example, Police Beat, a fictional film I made with the director Robinson Devor (we also made Zoo), is also a documentary about a Seattle that’s recovering from the dot-com crash of 2000 (a crash that sent Amazon’s shares falling from nearly $100 apiece to $6—they’re now around $2,400), and entering its first construction boom of the 21st century (between 2005 and 2008).
The construction boom that began in 2013 completely transformed the city. Indeed, the Seattle you see in Police Beat, which is now available on this website, is dwarfed by the Seattle of today, the Seattle the construction industry is so eager to keep building, even during the pandemic. Also, Seattle has added a whole city, a whole Tacoma (190,000) to its population since the completion of Police Beat in 2003.
There are no signs of the coming spectacular growth in the film.
South Lake Union is flat. The Space Needle stands alone. Traffic seems not so bad. But the mind-boggling thing to grasp is this: no major transportation developments have occurred between the city we live in now and the city that my fictional film documented in 2003. When Link opened the game-changing stations on Capitol Hill and the University of Washington in 2016, it still only had 20 miles of track. Vancouver, the most urban city in the Pacific Northwest, has 80. Even when the extensions to Northgate and Bellevue are completed in 2021 and 2023, respectively, our metropolis will still have fewer miles of track than Vancouver, a city whose area has a million fewer people.
The hero of my film, the police officer Z (played by the beautiful but sadly late Pape Sidy Niang), could actually afford a little Seattle house on his salary (around $45,000). The median price of houses in 2003 was a lot (about $300,000) but not out of reach for a middle-class immigrant with a stable job. Today the median is still $800,000! And the growth of middle-class incomes has been stubbornly slow over the decade. If Z were around today, and still had the American dream in his Muslim heart, he would have to leave Seattle and find a home in Auburn or Sea-Tac.
Lastly, the film is a documentary about Seattle’s beautiful and virid parks. How I love them all and wanted to film them all: Volunteer Park, Freeway Park, the Washington Park, Madison Park, the parks on either side of the Montlake Cut. So green, so urban, so natural.