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Sundance's "Brick City"


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its being hyped as "The Wire meets non-fiction", and caught my interest..thought id share.


early review seems to sum it up well:


Early in the first episode of "Brick City," Sundance Channel's five-part documentary series chronicling a half-year in the life of Newark, the camera crew follows Mayor Cory Booker to the scene where a 10-year-old boy was shot in the neck. A bystander confronts the crew with a profane rant about how TV only turns up to report on tragedies in the black community.


"Go find a good story!" he screams. "Go find some black people having a good (expletive) time, right here, right now!"

If that man has cable, he'll get to see that the "Brick City" filmmakers were taking his advice even before he angrily offered it. There is tragedy aplenty in these five hours, but also comedy and political intrigue and, yes, black people having a good time.


Though the film will probably get most of its attention for the access that directors Marc Levin and Mark Benjamin (and producer Forest Whitaker) got to Booker and Police Director Garry McCarthy, "Brick City" takes a broader view of the city. We spend a lot of time with Booker and McCarthy, but also with Central High School principal Ras Baraka, with community activist Street Doctor (real name: Earl Best), and, especially, with a pair of star-crossed lovers with rival gang affiliations named Jayda (a Blood) and Creep (a Crip).

We see Booker and McCarthy try to restructure the Newark Police Department and make it more efficient, but we also see efforts at improvement on a smaller scale. Jayda starts a youth mentoring program. Street Doctor passes out Entenmann's cakes in poor neighborhoods, noting that a sweet treat might put someone out of the mood to commit violence. ("It sounds stupid," he acknowledges, "but it work, man.")


In that attempt to illuminate the lives of a cross-section of a struggling city -- and the difficulty that individuals have in trying to swim against an institutionalized tide -- "Brick City" isn't unlike a non-fiction version of HBO's "The Wire." In particular, the story of Booker and McCarthy's plan to lower the crime rate -- and how that plan is derailed by an imploding economy -- will be familiar to any "Wire" fan who watched its final seasons, particularly a scene where Booker asks his aides to try to do "more with less."

("The Wire" was itself based on real events in Baltimore. Life imitates art imitates life.)


The filmmakers, while praising the acclaimed but bleak HBO drama, have tried to distance their project from the obvious comparisons. At a press conference with TV critics last month, Bejamin said that, "in this film series, unlike 'The Wire,' we focus on healers," and Whitaker said that "Brick City" offered a more hopeful, "holistic approach" to the problems facing urban America.


"Brick City" is certainly a more optimistic endeavor, but what it also shares with "The Wire" is a willingness to view its characters from all sides, good and bad. Booker gives inspiring speeches and comforts grieving relatives of crime victims, but he also despairs as the economy goes south and makes the occasional private gaffe in front of the cameras. (Told the crime statistics are good, he boasts, "Cocked and locked, baby! Ready to fire," then looks sheepish and admits, "Bad metaphor.") Jayda's plan to mentor at-risk teen girls is noble, but she's also dealing with an old assault charge, and after she and Creep have a fight, she kicks him out and threatens to abort their unborn baby as punishment.


Each hour is built around a central storyline, like the battle for control of the Newark PD between McCarthy and then-chief Anthony Campos, or the struggle to get the new Central High building open in time for the start of a new school year. That episode has one of the series' simplest and most emotionally affecting scenes, as a Central vice-principal teaches a group of boys who have grown up without fathers how to tie a tie.


The real world is messier than fiction (even fiction, like "The Wire," heavily based on reality), and so "Brick City" doesn't have an entirely satisfying narrative through-line. It's an involving, often moving, slice of Newark city life, but in the end, the stories of both the city and its spotlighted residents feel very unfinished.


It's hard to expect closure, though, from a city that most of the residents admit only sometimes makes sense.


"I've had discussion with some politicians here in Newark who tell me even they don't understand the politics of Newark," says McCarthy, "and that's their employment."


show getting promoted on Colbert Report


not the first of its kind, i also read of Homicide: a year on the killing streets, but this booker guy is supposed to be good at this kinda thing.

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