'Fruitvale': Film about the shooting of Oscar Grant a smash at Sundance

Fruitvale, a narrative film that depicts the last 24-hours of Oscar Grant’s life, ending with his shooting death by a transit officer, is one of the most buzzed-out films premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.

The new film marks Ryan Coogler’s directorial debut.  The 26-year-old filmmaker and USC graduate is also the film’s writer.

Based on a true story, Fruitvale stars Michael B. Jordan (Chronicle) as 22-year-old Oscar Grant.

Grant was traveling to his Oakland home in the early morning hours of New Year’s Day 2009, when the train he was riding was stopped by BART police officers.  The officers were responding to a call that a there was a fight on the train. The train stopped at the Fruitvale station, for which the film is named, and officers removed several young African-American males from the train. Passengers remaining on the train caught the events that followed on cellphone cameras.

Grant, unarmed, can be seen in the videos surrounded by officers.  He appears calm until an officer shoves his face into the ground and a struggle starts.

Then transit officer, Johannes Mehserle, 27, decided to draw his gun, and fired a shot into Grants back, killing him instantly.

theGrio slideshow: Seeking justice for Oscar Grant

Accompanying Jordan on-screen is Academy Award winner Octavia Spencer (The Help), playing the role of Grant’s mother, Melonie Diaz as Grant’s girlfriend Sophina, and Ariana Neal taking on the role of Grant and Sophina’s young daughter, Tatiana.

Spencer is also producing the film with her fellow Oscar winner Forest Whitaker.

“As Oscar, Jordan at moments gives off vibes of a very young Denzel Washington in the way he combines gentleness and toughness,”  Todd McCarthy wrote in a review for The Hollywood Reporter.  “He effortlessly draws the viewer in toward him.”

“I cried very hard throughout the end of the film. I promise, you will be hearing a lot about this movie,” added The Huffington Post’s Mike Ryan.

Fruitvale‘s buzz reportedly started a bidding war among big name distributors.  In the end, the Weinstein Co. acquired the film for about $2.5 million, reports The Daily Beast.

theGrio slideshow: Anger unleashed by Oscar Grant verdict

Mehserle, the German-born, white officer was tried by a jury that didn’t include one African-American, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and only sentenced to two years in prison.

The verdict sparked riots across the Bay Area.  After serving one year of his sentence, Mehserle was released on parole in June 2011.

Follow Carrie Healey on Twitter @CarrieHeals