Thin Line: “Central Park Five” indicts NYPD, DA & national media

Sarah Burns’ Central Park Five is an example of documentary filmmaking at it’s best.

The filmmakers movie about five teenage boys wrongfully convicted of sexual assault and attempted murder takes the viewer back to the 1989 Central Park jogger case, in which four black teenagers — Antron McCray, Kharey Wise, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam — and one Hispanic teenager, Raymond Santana — were indicted, tried and convicted for the rape and near–fatal beating of Trisha Meili.

The men, ages 14 to 17 at the time, served sentences for a crime none of them committed.

Burns pieces together the story from the fateful night in Central Park through the present, using archival footage of news reports, pundit commentary and facts from the case. Burns’ most devastating material comes from on-camera interviews with four of the five men who lost up to 13 years in prison.

With infuriating precision and expert editing, Burns pieces together the culture surrounding the incident — both in New York and the police department — that resulted in coerced confessions from children. Then the film traces the miscarriage of justice resulting from confessions that were blatantly inconsistent, yet powerfully persuasive. The boys went to prison because of the confessions, in spite of the fact that no DNA from the boys was found at the crime scene and no evidence from the scene was ever found on the boys.

Journalists, defense attorneys, a psychologist and a historian fill in the shameful blanks about systemic injustice, media myopia and the prevailing presumptions about black and Hispanic men that convicted five innocent children and subjected them to adult punishment. Burns’ sources speak with reason and thoughtfulness, which magnifies the sense of humiliation that just won’t stick to the system that railroaded the young men and forever abridged their potential. That each freed man speaks without bitterness should be an insult to the American consciousness, but as no officials involved with the case were ever censured, no just injury has been born by an errant public.

Central Park Five is a searing indictment of a justice system crippled by political jockeying, and a painful damning of what feels like — in 2013 — intractable racism.

The men filed a civil suit against the detectives who investigated them and against the city of New York in 2003. The case remains unresolved.

Oh, and the actual assailant in the Central Park jogger case? His name is Matias Reyes.

 

Thin Line Film Fest: Queens of kick score goals, win hearts

Prof. Eugene Martin saw his documentary film The Anderson Monarchs earn an enthusiastic ovation at Sunday’s Thin Line Film Fest.

The University of North Texas radio, television and film faculty member earned more applause when he announced that the documentary will get commercial distribution.

The documentary follows two young, inner-city soccer players, Jlon, 11, and Kahlaa, 10, from 2008 to 2010. The girls, now 16 and 15, are emblems of raw talent and grace as their team struggles against limited resources to continue not just its winning record, but a trajectory of growth that is almost perfunctory among suburban select soccer.

Martin includes enough edge-of-the-seat game footage to propel the real story — Coach Walt and his girls. Walt is a well-heeled former attorney who gave up affluence (and lost his marriage and children) after following his quiet Catholic and social justice convictions to a battered playing field and three teams filled with some of the country’s most vulnerable children — urban black girls in poor Philadelphia. In a particularly affecting scene, Coach Walt ends practice after gunfire sounds nearby and the Philly PD investigates an adjacent basketball court. Coach Walt’s  solid presence becomes a bulwark for talented, hardworking athletes who see too much, too soon in the streets Philly.

Anderson Monarchs succeeds largely from Martin’s apt storytelling, competent cinematography and two of the most sympathetic subjects in the festival. Title IX opened doors for girls to get a real crack at athletic competition — and the educational opportunities that can come with it. The Anderson Monarchs pulls back the curtain on dead end, lip service politicking in education reform. What we see are bright and talented children in danger of being stranded by impotent elected officials who are more interested in protecting their own interests than any real change for deserving constituents.

With the parents like these behind the Jlons and Kahlaas of American inner cities, and dogged volunteers like Coach Walt, the will of the next generation will find a way

The festival ends today with screenings at the Fine Arts Theatre at 114 N. Elm St.

Thin Line Film Fest: A film that needs no words

 

Sometimes, a short documentary can be a revelation.

Still, the story of Carlos Eyles, sweeps away all the crunchy, hippy-dippy caricature of environmental activism in just the opening sequence of the film, a poem of color, elegant movement and crystalline light.

As soon as Still opens, we are underwater at a Hawaiian reef with Eyles, an author, free diver and ocean photographer. At over 60 years old, Eyles is a trim, athletic figure moving around the reef.

The short film includes maybe three paragraphs of narration by Eyles. The real story of wonder, beauty and transcendence is in the images of the man moving through the water, all dancer-like, touching a passing sea turtle, petting bottle nose dolphins and tracking big stingrays as they venture by.

Still is an apt sermon about creation, and how it doesn’t need shifty human intervention, yet is bruised over and over again by our blundering and ever-widening civilization.

11 minutes.

Thin Line Film Fest: ‘Undocumented Dreams’ a straightforward affair

 

University of North Texas graduate student Sara Massetti kept everything straightforward in Undocumented Dreams, a short documentary about a young college graduate, Loren, stranded by his immigration status.

Massetti follows Loren, who came to the states with his mother when he was 11, has graduated with a degree in engineering and hopes to get a doctorate and work in earthquake engineering. We watch him as he teaches other students in leadership training and as he teaches free seminars for immigrants, educating them about how to interact with immigration officials. “Don’t sign anything,” he instructs. “Stay quiet and ask for a lawyer. As a human being, you have a right to legal counsel.”

Massetti steers clear of the immigration debate, instead focusing on “dreamers,” the term for immigrants (especially Latin American immigrants) who came to America as children and now strive for legal status – through marriage naturalization, through the delayed visa process.

Massetti’s story isn’t incendiary. It’s a sketch of one life among millions that identifies as an American and craves to contribute to America as a recognized, legitimate citizen.

15 minutes.

 

 

Thin Line Film Fest: ‘Blood Brothers’ upsets expectations

Blood Brothers begins with the narrative that can make conscientious viewers wince: Young white American sets off for the third world to find – wait for it – authenticity.

Oh great. Another flick about a self-absorbed white kid who becomes a better person, and the third world natives – in this case, Indian orphans living in a home just for orphans with HIV – are just props the white person uses to achieve some sort of anti-materialism nirvana. (Blind Side,  anyone?)

Well, Blood Brother shatters that expectation. To dust.

Subject Rocky Braat isn’t the over-indulged upper-middleclass American kid we’ve come to expect. He’s a soulful, unmoored young man who was raised by his grandparents after his mother vanished into addiction and his dad started over with a new woman and not much discernible regard for Rocky or Rocky’s sister.

Braat goes to India, not to find himself, but to start over and find a home. Visa troubles hit and he’s suddenly back in Pittsburg with best friend and filmmaker Steve Hoover. Braat is visibly disconnected from his old urban life, antsy to get back to India and the orphans he’s come to adore and care for at a spare orphanage where they basically wait to die.

Hoover decides to make the trip back with Braat, still unconvinced that his best friend has made a rational choice.

Hoover plunges the viewer immediately into the crisis of children living with a terminal virus and little access to medicine. The film is a punishing one, depicting the death of a Indian girl as Braat and Hoover race toward a hospital the girl’s father holding her as he clings to Braat’s motorbike. (More than one child’s remains are filmed, sans exploitation.)

Hoover then follows Braat back to his new life, a hardscrabble place without running water, sewage treatment and comforts. Braat confesses to the first shocks he felt – disgust at the sticky illness of the orphans, the numbness of losing children who adore him so much and so immediately that they call him Rockyanna, “brother Rocky” and the gut-punch of stories about widows with HIV who live nearby with their children. Hoover never flinches from the filth and the casual, brutal fist of the blight that is third world HIV-AIDS.

Something makes all of this watchable: the children. Even in their loneliness, their pain and their uncertainty, the orphans are incandescent. Smiles and laughter are almost constant, and Braat is almost never without a gaggle of kids clinging to him – from neck, waist arms and legs. Hoover gradually finds a flowering of joy in Braat himself.

Braat eventually marries an Indian woman, but the authenticity he searches for finally emerges in his relationship with the young orphan Surya. The boy falls gravely ill – lips falling off of his face, eyes sealed shut with infection and body peppered with sores. Braat stays at his bedside, mopping up the most offensive stuff a diseased body produces. He sings to the boy, walks him about and snatches him back from the edge of death.

Rocky Braat began his journey as an American kid who never felt connected. He arrives at the next chapter as a husband, a father and a unordained priest who gives the least of these a good death.

93 minutes.

Solange up close

Solange Knowles was one of the final acts announced for this year’s 35 Denton headlining lineup.

Denton Record-Chronicle K-12 education reporter, Britney Tabor, impressed the heck out of us when she mentioned attending a big bash in Philadelphia where Solange unleashed her DJ skills.

Solange in Philly

Solange is shown at a party in Philadelphia, where she was the DJ for an event in 2010. (Photo by Britney Tabor)

Solange is an R&B singer who has covered indie music darlings like The Dirty Projectors, and she is no amateur at the turntable, either, Tabor tells us.

35 Denton is a four-day, “walkable” annual music festival held in downtown Denton each spring. It opens March 7 and ends March 10. For the full lineup and wristbands, go here.

Solange Knowles added to 35 Denton lineup

We hate to refer to the most recent big announcement by 35 Denton in relationship to her big sister.

But when we learned that songstress and DJ Solange was inked to the local music festival roster, we were geeking out inside. (“Omigod! Beyonce’s totally cool little sister is coming to little d? Solange will help keep Denton beard?”)

Solange has made a name for herself thanks to her personal music talents and vocal skills. She released an EP, True, last year and the buzz is that she isn’t riding Bey’s coattails.

We have at least one eye witness to Solange’s success in the limelight. Denton Record-

Little sister's gettin' big

Solange Knowles brings her urbane R&B to 35 Denton (Universal Music Group)

Chronicle staffer Britney Tabor, a music fan who covers the education beat, divulged: “I think she’s a great DJ. I went to a party where she was DJing and she was really, really good.”

Yeah, that’s right. A Denton Record-Chronicle humblebrag and namedrop, but we’re not ashamed.

For more of the festival lineup, go here.

35 Denton will be March 7-10 in downtown Denton.

Journal writing workshop begins today

Aspiring journal writers can learn how to get started in a four-week workshop that begins today.

Rachel Yeatts leads the workshop, which covers the fundamentals and development of a personal journal. Workshops are 9 to noon Fridays, July 2, 9, 16 and 23 at A Creative Art Studio, 227 W. Oak in downtown Denton.

Learn techniques in journal writing that can help you shape and organize your ideas, expand and explore your goals, connect with your inner wisdom, document and examine your dreams, write creatively, brainstorm, and much more. For beginners and longtime journal keepers.

The cost of the workshop is $150 for materials and workbooks. $50 is required at registration. For more information, call (940) 442-1251.

Top organizer shares her methods with Denton

Deniece Schofield, a noted organizer, will come to Denton for two home organization workshops. The first is 10 to noon July 14, and the second is 7 to 9 p.m. the same day. The workshops will be at the Comfort Suites, 1100 N. Interstate 35E.

The workshops costs $20 at the door.

Schofield is known for her organization techniques, and is known for her books on the topic, such as Confessions of an Organized Homemaker and Confessions of a Happily Organized Family.

For more information, call 1-800-835-8463.