A great film for fathers and sons all over is one that screened earlier this week during the 20th Annual Tribeca Film Festival, and which is available to screen virtually through June 23. The film is also on the slate of the Chicago Doc10 Film Festival, which runs virtually through June 20.
The sophomore documentary of Oscar-nominated Bing Liu (“Minding the Gap”) and feature debut of award-winning editor Joshua Altman, “All These Sons” is an urgent and compassionate look at two Chicago programs dedicated to educating, empowering and healing young, at-risk Black men.
Chicago gun violence, particularly on the South and West sides, has made national headlines for decades. While the city responds with aggressive policing, two community members lead programs that attempt to change the conditions that produce violence in the first place—by investing in the young men most at risk of being a victim or perpetrator.
The documentary shows the victories and struggles of the program participants who must do the difficult work of examining their rationales and fears, often revealing the deep trauma that feeds the cycles of violence.
One of these programs, MAAFA Redemption Project, is led by Marshall Hatch, Jr., of New Pilgrim Baptist Church on the West Side. The other program, Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN), is led by Billy Moore, who spent 20 years in prison for the fatal shooting of Simeon basketball standout Ben Wilson in 1984. Moore was 16 at the time.
And although Moore has paid his debt to society, he keeps giving back to his community on the South Side by working with youth through IMAN and the Green ReEntry project, which provides transitional housing, life skills education and sustainable construction training for returning citizens and high-risk youth.
“I live with Ben every day. I’m sure until the day I die, I’m going to live with Ben. I can’t get away from that. Unfortunately, there’s going to be people in society who aren’t going to let me get away from that,” Moore told Sports Chicago about ten years ago.
The documentary shared sessions with participants of IMAN, who were committed to setting their lives back on track after one setback after another.
One participant had previously been shot 21 times, with his recovery lasting more than 18 months, but he was optimistic. Another, Charles Woodhouse, took a stroll along his South Side neighborhood and yearned for years gone by. “Folks would sit on their porches and ‘live;’ this doesn’t happen now,” he said, while admitting that his girlfriend helps to keep him on his toes.
Hatch’s MAAFA program also had many youths who previously had much promise but had fallen astray. One in particular Shamont Slaughter didn’t know his dad until he was 17, but he knew that he hung out at the local Family Dollar store, So, he would go there daily to look for him. He was grieving with so much pain, and he was hard pressed to keep up with program regulations—even being kicked out of a group home at one point. There was a reason for this rebellious attitude. Slaughter had lost his brother to gun violence and felt he needed ìto make other moms cry as his mom had cried.”
However, a trip that both groups took to visit Howard University and the National Museum of African American History and Culture gave him—as well as other members of both programs—new hope. Slaughter was inspired to get his GED and help become the man that he needed to be to welcome his new baby.
But Hatch isn’t deterred when the young men share their fears. “God lives in West Garfield, you can’t dwell on past atrocities, you must look ahead,” he tells the group.
Filmmakers Bing Liu and Joshua Altman journeyed with their cameras alongside Woodhouse and Slaughter, along with another young man named Zay, as they wrestled with their pasts and, with the guidance of their mentors, constructed a better future for generations to come.
“Bing and Josh embedded themselves deeply into the communities portrayed in their documentary ‘All These Sons’,” said Concordia Studio’s founder Davis Guggenheim. “The result is an honest, breathtaking and poetic film. All of us at Concordia are so proud to support their remarkable achievement.”
Finally, as much as programs have to work hard to keep participants committed, Hatch is more direct about what is needed throughout Chicago to fight crime. “We have to change the conditions that produce killers in the first place.”
For information about “All These Sons” and Tribeca, visit [tribecafilm.com/festival].
Thanks to the generosity of funding provided by The Field Foundation of Illinois, Inc. in producing this article.
Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J., is the Entertainment Editor for the Chicago Crusader. She is a National Newspaper Publishers Association ‘Entertainment Writing’ award winner, contributor to “Rust Belt Chicago” and the author of “Old School Adventures from Englewood: South Side of Chicago.” For info, Old School Adventures from Englewood—South Side of Chicago (lulu.com) or email: [email protected].