Overview: In the wake of the 2015 death of Freddie Gray in police custody, Baltimore was a city on the edge. Peaceful protests and destructive riots erupted in the immediate aftermath of Gray’s death, while the city waited to hear the fate of the six police officers involved in the incident, reflecting the deep divisions between authorities and the community — and underscoring the urgent need for reconciliation.
Directed by Sonja Sohn (one of the stars of the HBO series THE WIRE), Baltimore Rising follows activists, police officers, community leaders and gang affiliates, who struggle to hold Baltimore together, even as the homicide rate hits record levels, and explores how to make change when change is hard. It chronicles the determined efforts of people on all sides who fight for justice and work to make their city better, sometimes coming together in unexpected ways, discovering a common humanity where before they often saw each other only as adversaries.
Expectations: This review comes late as the documentary has already debuted. I have not been able to watch the 1-hour 34-minute film until now. Since its debut, I have seen the trailer and a few released clips from it. I think this type of documentary is a long time coming. From what I have seen this type of work should be a mandatory project. Just like the NFL insists that its teams must be featured in HARD KNOCKS so too should each and every traumatized and challenged city in this country be the focal point of a documentary that illustrates the problem and sorts out the good and the bad, plus informs the rest of the country that they are working out their issues. Hell, Charlottesville needs this type of process and so does Houston after the hurricane and Las Vegas after the mass shooting. I’m eager to go to ground zero in downtown Baltimore to see how a Baltimore Uprising turns into Baltimore Rising.
Gut Reaction: I think I am more stoked by the fact this documentary exists and that it is as through as it is than I am intrigued by the words spoken in it. In fact, some of the issues and dialogue spoken are no real shockers. The racial and social discriminations are all too familiar. But, the fact that this documentary chronicling Baltimore, Maryland post-Freddie Gray got made and showed cooperation on all sides is amazing. Perhaps it starts with THE WIRE’s Sonja Sohn. She believes in and loves her city and must have gone to great lengths to get all sides of society to appear on film. There are social workers, social activists, police, councilmen, gang members and everyday people on the street voicing their opinions and/or actively working out their city’s civil issues.
Again, I think it mandatory that cities should follow Baltimore’s initiative when facing social ills that tear a city apart. Not only did this film follow the news about Gray’s death but the hearings of the officers charged with negligence and/or his death. The city, as a whole, fought hard and talked often to make sure that the uprising that happened upon his suspicious death would resurge as the innocent verdicts kept coming for each officer. Sohn’s cameras were they every step of the way. It is quite amazing to me in how much ground was covered. The cameras caught protest planning sessions, the actual protests, the feelings on the street, the matters discussed at the courthouse and the police station. At both the organized sessions and the impromptu ones. Each person on screen was no holds barred about their thoughts, feelings, quest and commitment. I convinced, through this documentary that other cities should follow Baltimore example.
Bonus: Sonia Sohn stated:
“When the uprising occurred [in 2015, following the death of Freddie Gray in police custody], I saw an opportunity to tell the city’s story from a different vantage point. I kept hearing from everybody that we need to reframe our narrative. It just seemed that I was in the right place at the right time.”
“Honestly, I want folks to see this film and be inspired by this amazing cast. I want them to see this film and see what it takes to make change. Every single one of us has a responsibility to jump in, pick up a hammer, a shovel, a pen, march, use a camera — whatever you do in your life — just follow this example.”
In Conclusion: In the end, those involved should be proud. They should be proud of not the catalyst for all of these, but proud for setting an example on how to approach the betterment of society beyond the catalyst that set off turmoil. Baltimore is not cured of all its ills. There will still be hate and a lack of jobs, but at least the city, as BALTIMORE RISING more than adequately proves, can acknowledge the ills and work on them. Like the Up documentary series that returned to interview a group of people every seven years, I’d be content if BALTIMORE RISING did that also and returned to see how the city was faring every few years – but only if Sonja Sohn had her hand in it.
Next: A documentary that goes to the front lines of a completely different battle in METH STORM.
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