17 Blocks

Davy Rothbart

Two decades in the life of the Sanford-Durant family, partly captured in intimate home video. After filmmaker Davy Rothbart met 9-year-old Emmanuel at a basketball court in Washington D.C., he gave him a camera to film his life. The result is funny, touching, grim and hopeful.

Seventeen blocks: that’s the distance between the U.S. Capitol and the violent Washington D.C. neighbourhood where the Sanford-Durant family lives. In 1999, filmmaker Davy Rothbart met young Emmanuel and his brother Smurf on a public basketball court. Rothbart began filming their everyday lives, and he gave Emmanuel a camera to do the same.

‘My name is Emmanuel,’ the boy tells the camera after he just learned how to work it. ‘And I’m a superstar.’ His father was killed when Emmanuel was young. His mother Cheryl and her boyfriend Joe are struggling with drug abuse, and more and more his brother Smurf, too, ‘is getting into the life’. Emmanuel and Rothbart capture scenes of happiness and love but also of domestic trouble, fights and (street) violence. Sometimes painful to watch, but always honest, pure, and filmed without judgement. But then tragedy strikes, and the documentary is turned on its head.


Davy Rothbart
Country of production
United States
96 minutes
Spoken language
Production company
Beachside Films
World Sales