The world premiere of All These Sons directed by Oscar-nominated Bing Liu (Minding the Gap) currently screens in the Documentary competition at Tribeca Film Festival. The film is also the feature debut of award-winning editor Joshua Altman. Accordingly, to catch this extraordinarily heartfelt work celebrating Tribeca’s twentieth year, make sure to screen it by June 20, the festival’s end date.
One cannot help but become involved with the young men and their mentors and guides whom Bing Liu shadows and interviews in this intimate portrait of two Chicago programs designed to help Black communities. Dedicated to social and personal responsibility, the programs target the South and West sides of Chicago. And they particularly address gun violence. Bing Liu’s portrait offers a timely and in-depth perspective showing how individuals in these Black communities work to re-educate, empower and heal young at-risk Black men.
For decades the gun and gang violence in Chicago’s South and West sides garnered national headlines. Sadly, the terrible fact remains that the city government attacks the problem in a limited fashion. First they beef up the aggressive policing measures, including tough enforcement rules. Does police brutality occur? Of course, as necessary force sometimes tips over into brutality. These abuses benefit no one. And they create divisions in an already wounded community.
By targeting those who have little opportunity to escape violent neighborhoods, they cause the troubles to circle and repeat. Violence never mitigates violence. Instead, it creates hopelessness. Indeed, oftentimes, such short-sighted plans exacerbate violence, which has brought Chicagoans to the current state of affairs.
Embedding themselves, Bing Liu and his team shadow two community members who introduce them to the troubled neighborhoods and the programs that help mitigate violence. Billy Moore of IMAN (Inner City Muslim Action Network) and Marshall Hatch, Jr of the MAAFA Redemption Project lead these effective programs with tremendous effort, love and care. Throughout, the filmmakers enlighten us about Moore’s and Hatch, Jr.’s backstory and the backgrounds of those under their care. These men’s indeed lives qualify them for this work. Having once been on the other end of violence, they know the score and hold nothing back to win over those in their programs.
As we view group sessions, personal counseling, and interviews with Moore and Hatch Jr., we understand how IMAN and MAAFA create safe spaces. The at-risk youth constantly look over their shoulders expecting gang vengeance to knock on their doors. Drive-bys in violent neighborhoods kill both the innocent and the guilty. We see that these young men have either killed, been in jail, or lost loved ones, casualties of turf wars and revenge.
The documentarians reveal a flare for ethnography as the subjects show how they attempt to change the conditions that produce gun deaths. The programs select those young men most at risk of becoming a victim or perpetrator. Before they are accepted, participants must dig deep. Finally, examining their fears and justifications, the young men confront the traumas in their own lives that perpetuate violence.
When Bing Liu and Joshua Altman in cinema verite style follow Charles, Zay and Shamont as they confront their former identities to carve out new personas, we hook into the poignancy and humanity of the process. Realizing the benefit of honesty with themselves, the participants thrive and begin to make life-affirming choices. Of course, the daily fight requires they stick with the program and adhere to their mentors’ guidance. If they accomplish this difficult task, they will construct a better future for generations to come. Indeed, their hopefulness and sensitivity redefines and stops them from acting like violent stereotypes. Kudos to the filmmakers for their unfiltered, raw perspective on the participants’ stories. Bing Liu’s honest rendering reveals Charles’, Zay’s and Shamont’s vulnerability, authenticity, and will to transform themselves.
All These Sons (a reference to Arthur Miller’s All My Sons) grabs one’s heart and emotions because the filmmakers allow us to hear and see these young men working hard against the cycle they could easily fall back into. Theirs remains a testimony for our time, a testimony that change can happen. The filmmakers and all subjects in the film relay their powerful message with the faith that fewer may be lost than if organizations like IMAN and MAAFA didn’t exist.
Finally, this documentary provides a viewpoint rarely seen. It focuses on its participants who speak their truth clearly, succinctly. As a result their bravery and courage to do the hard work of transformation shines.
All These Sons screens in the Documentary Competition category at Tribeca Film Festival 2021. Check for tickets and times by clicking HERE.