Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Boys of Baraka

Release Date: 2005
Production Company: Loki Films
Directors: Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady 
Run time: 84 minutes
Seen on: Netflix DVD

This 2005 documentary is by the directors of Detropia.  Before I get into the review, I sat right next to one of the directors, Rachel Grady and one of the boys from this documentary, as I sat outside eating my PB&J in between the screenings at Maryland Film Festival this May.  I realized it later as she was introducing the film with MFF Director Jed Dietz.  It was random, and now another reason why I think film festivals are great.

I was drawn to this documentary first because I had enjoyed Detropia.  Secondly, the documentary focuses on young African-American boys in Baltimore.  I watched this documentary a few days after The Interrupters.  Both films deal with communities struggling with violence, drug abuse, and the future of its young people. 

The Boys of Baraka poses the question: Can 10,000 miles make a difference?  When the documentary was made, 76% of African-American boys did not graduate high school.  The Baraka School strove to change that.  Each year, the Baraka Boarding School in Kenya, East Africa, selected 20 at-risk boys from Baltimore to spend 2 years in Kenya. 

The film focuses on 4 boys, Richard and his younger brother Romesh, Devon, and Montrey.  You meet each boy in his home and understand where he is coming from.  When the boys leave home, you see the struggle of 12 and 13 year old boys moving away from home.  The scene at the airport is moving: families crying, but mothers reminding them why they are going, why they are doing this.

The documentary shows how the boys begin to change, working together, convincing one another not to fight, and growing academically.  There is some humor in it as well.  Boys from the inner city getting used to rural Kenya, without power 24 hours a day. "There is something better than a cat, a hedgehog.  See?"

Bonus materials include an interview with Bill Cosby: "Your white critics, your black critics.  "Well why are these white people there?'  Well then goddamnit, put the black bodies on them.  Cause if no black bodies show up, don't bitch to me about white people doing a marvelous job."

Friday, August 3, 2012

The Interrupters

Release Date: 2011
Production Company: Kartemquin Films/Rise Films
Directors: Steve James and Alex Kotlowitz
Run time: 125 minutes
Seen on: Netflix DVD, on PBS
Update 5/20/13, Available Free Online at PBS

Even before I watched, The Interrupters , I was impressed by its pedigree.  It is directed by Steve James who is also responsible for the acclaimed Hoop Dreams.  That is on my must watch list.  Kartemquin Films is also responsible for Refrigerator Mothers, a film I watched in February and was also impressed with.

This film follows the Cease Fire program in the neighborhood of Englewood in Chicago's South Side.  "Violence is like a disease, it spreads from one person to another.  To cure it you must interrupt it."  The film follows The Interrupters through a year in Chicago and focuses mostly on Ameena Matthews, Cobe Williams, and Eddie Bocanegra: former gang members who now work with the program. 

The goal of The Interrupters is to "interrupt" the cycle of violence.  The idea behind it seems fairly straight forward.  If violence leads to violence leads to more violence, the only way to stop it is to convince someone not to retaliate.  But how does one step into a conflict and break the cycle?  This film follows them into the fray, directly into conflicts, fights, and community action.  You see Ameena speaking to the youth at a funeral.  You see Cobe trying to convince a friend to follow the right path.  You see Eddie teaching art to kids.

The film follows them through a full year and begins in the summer.  One of the first shots brought me right to Baltimore.  Someone on the corner selling "Ice Cold Water, One Dollar."  The chant and the cadence was the same in Chicago that it is in Baltimore.  While I do not have first hand experience with the violence in Baltimore, it appears that Chicago may have some of the same problems with poverty and violence among young people.

This is a film that I was not able to look away from.  I had this on my list for a few weeks, but it took me awhile to get up the courage to watch it.  This is not easy to watch but I highly recommend it.  The Interrupters is a captivating and potent view of a community in crisis.