U.S. Documentary Competition
Directed by Bing Lui and Joshua Altman
In 2018 a young filmmaker named Bing Lui made quite an impression with his documentary MINDING THE GAP, a small intimate documentary about three young skateboarders looking to escape the confines of their world. The film won many awards and was Academy Award and Emmy nominated, so it’s exciting to see that Lui’s new film, ALL THESE SONS, is just as deftly crafted, but takes on a broader and even more intricate story. Bing Lui is joined by his editing partner on MINDING THE GAP, Joshua Altman, to co-direct this film. They also both serve as cinematographers and won the award for Best Cinematography for a Documentary Feature at the Tribeca Film Festival. After seeing the intimacy in which the camera moves through the lives of its subjects in ALL THESE SONS, it’s no wonder these two young filmmakers were recognized. They both have a keen sense of capturing people at their most vulnerable, while not being too intrusive, and some sequences are so raw and heart-wrenching it gives the viewer the sense that they are experiencing something deeply personal and precious.
The documentary takes place in Chicago, namely the West and South sides of the city, where the murder rates are disproportionately high. Instead of focusing on the violence of the streets, the film gives an in depth look into two programs aimed at helping struggling young men break the cycle of gun violence, prison sentences and lost innocence within their communities. William “Billy” Moore, the founder of Green ReEntry and Marshall Hatch Jr., co-founder of MAAFA Redemption Project, are both focused on helping the most susceptible men that may either fall victim to or perpetuate gun violence. The film follows these two leaders, who are also wrestling with the struggles of their own past, as they connect with the men who come to them seeking help, guidance and redemption. Billy and Marshall might have different approaches, but they both truly want to see change in their participants and connect with them on a personal level that exudes empathy and grace. These are not two outsiders who don't know the hardships, the politics and the circumstances that these men have to deal with, but leaders who can relate to them on every level. Through hard work, self-reflection and tough love Billy and Marshall aim to change these men from the inside out and have their actions speak louder than words.
As the camera lingers in church sanctuaries, meeting rooms, half-way houses and the streets of Chicago, the audience gets to know the daily ongoings of these programs through some of the participants. Shamont, Zay and Charles are each at various stages within the program and are each dealing with unique circumstances and have very specific demons to overcome. They are intriguing figures, who act so natural and seem to be mostly unbothered by the camera, which is revealing some of their darkest moments to the audience. In the virtual interview Zay amusingly commented that he didn’t really pay attention to the cameras, because he “didn’t think [the film] would go anywhere.” Maybe that was part of the magic that Lui and Altman were able to capture. These men had nothing more to lose, after dealing with the trauma of being shot or losing your loved one or going to prison or being abandoned. The cameras were the least of their worries, and the intimate access the filmmakers were able to get makes this film immensely compelling. When asked why Marshall and Billy trusted these young outsider filmmakers to tell their story, they responded with the sentiment that they knew that Lui and Altman wanted to highlight the work they were doing in Chicago and the successes they were having. They hope that by shedding more light on their programs this will be a call to action for communities all around the US and the world that are struggling with the cycle of violence and lack of opportunities. This sense of hope is reflected in the ending of the film, where the audience gets to experience how the bonds between participants and leaders do bring about real and lasting change, even if there is always more work to be done.