Saturday, April 9, 2016

The Rule (2014) Review:

After watching Revolution '67 (2007), a documentary by Marylou and Jerome Bongiorno, any viewer should be able to walk away with a solid understanding of why the city of Newark, is the way it is today. Although it was released a while back, the information it conveys to its respective audience is still significant now. Within that documentary, the Bongiorno's painted a picture to assist the uneducated in receiving a better understanding of the old city. Topics ranged from social, political, and economic issues; to why and how they occurred. To the uninformed, the comeback for Newark has not been easy. There are still numerous controversies at hand that require attention. But of all this, the Bongiornos’ were able to discover a hidden gem within the bustling streets. That gem is known as St. Benedict's Preparatory School, a school for the youth of Newark that has a reinvigorating set of ideals they call "The Rule" that demonstrates the current state of Newark isn't set in stone.

The Monks of St. Benedict's Prep
Of the St. Benedict's rule, their guidelines consist of 12 different fields of focus. Those sections consist of Counseling, History, Adaptability, Commitment, Hope, Connectedness, Trust, Leadership, Community, Perseverance, Spirituality and Stability. Directing this feature film is again Marylou Bongiorno, who goes through each part of St. Benedict's rule and systematically disassembles what each component means and how it effects the operations of the school. Together, these factors make up what is the structure of St. Benedict's and how it functions to enhance the lives of the youth that attend their campus. For the teens who attend St. Benedict's, they quickly learn the value of teamwork, friendship, leadership and learning that there is a future beyond the streets they live on. Of course the first stepping stone is instilling that in the students. This is where the counseling comes in. However, the reputation that St. Benedict's has now was not always as a well-oiled machine.

Along with demonstrating that the school could change lives, the institution itself was tested too. This test occurred in 1967, specifically which was elaborated on in Revolution '67 (2007). This particularly coincided with the history, adaptability, commitment and hope sections to their rule. The rest (connectedness, trust, leadership, community, perseverance, spirituality and stability) aims to transform the students for the better. All of these aspects are the necessary ingredients for a healthy upbringing that much of the younglings do not receive in the city of Newark and some of its surrounding cities. Yet of the schools in Newark where just 32% of students pass the high school proficiency assessment (stated in the film), St. Benedict's has a very high graduation and college acceptance rate percentage. Why is that? It's apparent that St. Benedict's rule has a very proactive impact on the youth who attend their school.

It's strange to think that these steps to achieving such success are real among all the negativity that encases the school, but it's quite impressive to say the least. It's this and the in-depth look at the school of St. Benedict's itself that really help the viewer grasp the journey that it took for this one school to get to where it is now. For how the information is presented, there isn't as much a variety of speakers but nonetheless they get the point across just as effectively. The majority of the speakers are the monks who oversee the school or other faculty that work there. There is an occasional appearance from a historian but that's it. Among the people speaking, audiences should get the most from Father Edward (a tough man with a soft interior) and Ivan Lamourt (a psychologist, director of counseling and assist. headmaster). These two really help put many of kids’ outer lives into perspective for those who don't understand and cannot relate to such situations.

Father Edward doin' his thing
There are some people however the Bongiorno's should have included. What would be intriguing to know are the opinions of past alumni and the parents of those alumni or current students about St. Benedicts and whether they feel they benefited from it. It does seem a bit rhetorical but at the same time, actually hearing the success would be great. This time, the cinematography and music was handled by Jerome Bongiorno. For camerawork, again the movement is rigid when it comes to interviews and that's fine. For anything else, Mr. Bongiorno captures as much as he can within St. Benedict's and even has footage of some of the outside activities. There are also several pictures put in for historical reference that help when it comes to the history flashbacks. The music by Mr. Bongiorno is not as frequent as before like Yotam Rosenbaum's composition from Revolution '67 (2007), but it does still have some very short cues played on piano to aid certain moments. It's all very informative.

This positive outlook on the teaching the youth of Newark New Jersey is very enlightening and uplifting. It misses the opportunity to have alumni students and the parents of students reinforce the power of St. Benedict's, but the faculty who do speak on the behalf of the school display enough to prove good things are happening. The cinematography heavily engages its audience with the system of the school and the students who live there. Let's hope more people follow them as a positive role model.

Points Earned --> 8:10

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Revolution '67 (2007) Review:

When it comes to the city, many people today think of all the popular places that have the most tourist attractions or what has the best sites to see. Of these highly sought out locations, people tend to forget that not every city is glistening with appealing visuals. Even the great New York City of the United States of America has its areas that require necessary attention. However, across NYC and over the Hudson River lies Newark, New Jersey. What was once a largely industrial and populated city now lays an urban landscape with several stretches of poverty and crime. For those who are not familiar with Newark intimately, their viewpoints unanimously converge on the assumption that Newark is a place nobody should visit. Yet for filmmakers Jerome and Marylou Bongiorno, they have a much different mentality about New Jersey's Newark. The Bongiornos are not your typical set of documentary movie makers. In this documentary, they cover how Newark changed after 1967.

Not much needed to be said here....
One of the biggest advantages the Bongiornos have in their favor versus numerous other filmmakers is that they live in Newark. What better way to get in contact with the people who know the city best, to immerse oneself in the culture and to gain an understanding of the city's history? Yes, research is needed but a disconnect will still exist unless the people involved actually experience the neighborhood itself. The year of 1967 was a time of change for Newark, in its social and political issues. Audiences are reeled into the enticing story of how things got so uncontrollable so quickly. Now of course just giving the reason is not all that is reported. As viewers are explained the set of events that brought about such an uproar, the next step was giving more food for thought by elaborating on the socio-economic history that plagued Newark before any of it even happened. In short, Newark was a slow cooking pot boiler that had unresolved problems.

What's intriguing to know, is that the infamous riots of Newark in 1967 were a culmination of circumstances. These quandaries had been brewing decades before and they span from subtopics about the housing commission, discrimination among people, corrupt city leaders, freeway construction, poverty and much more. Along with that are several clips of people being interviewed that were either indirectly and (more importantly) directly involved with this tragic set of events. This list of people that help give the audience a richer understanding of the complications at hand range from activists, historians, former politicians, public safety officials, journalists and others. Of these individuals, Tom Hayden, Ronald Smothers, Sharpe James, Amiri Baraka, Nell Irvin Painter, George Richardson are just some of the people who help relay this information. What's even more surprising is to see and hear how much of a disadvantage other races had compared to working white folk.

Yet if there was one group of people being interviewed that should have had more time to explain their side of the story, it should have been for the veterans of the National Guard. It's definitely important to have your audience understand the topic at hand and receive the message the film conveys, but it is also important to have equal amounts of information on both sides. This is not to conflict the overall comprehension, but to see the viewpoints from both perspectives equally. There are nonetheless some very disturbing statistics displayed throughout the film that can resonate for quite a while. Another aspect to this documentary that really helps the atmosphere and tension feel all the more authentic are the numerous snippets of 8mm videos that were taken during the violence that occurred that day. During those particular pieces of recorded history, one can only imagine what it would've been like to see the National Guard advancing through local streets.

Just one of the many interviewed
In wrapping up, the last segment updates viewers on Newark's current status. There are things going on in Newark, but it still needs the right guidance. For Jerome Bongiorno working as cinematographer, the camerawork was fine. For the interview elements, the camera is rigid much of the time and that's how it should be when filming a classic documentary. Then again it would have been quite stimulating to see more shots that caught today's Newark in action. For those who don't live in Newark, just having the camera pass through pedestrians or by sidewalks doesn't show Newark's other surroundings. The music was an enjoyable added touch though. Composed by Yotam Rosenbaum, the music is a callback to the days of early jazz when the instruments at the forefront consisted of piano, organ, and light brushes on the snare. These sounds all in some way assist in reflecting the time and tone of that era. This will actually help the viewers be more engaged. It's very appropriate.

Aside from not having enough stories from the National Guard end and missing some contemporary shots of said location, this documentary on the history of Newark New Jersey should be seen not just to educate, but to understand. The facts, the people interviewed, the music and historical evidence shown through pictures and video all mingle to form a cohesive empathetic break down of this misunderstood city.

Points Earned --> 7:10