All These Sons [Tribeca 2021]

Jun 14, 2021
By Kaveh Jalinous

Web Exclusive


All These Sons is the newest documentary from Bing Liu, the director of the Academy Award-nominated documentary Minding The Gap, and Joshua Altman, the co-editor of Minding The Gap. The film explores the modern-day gun violence epidemic in the South and West Sides of Chicago through the lens of two groups trying to stop the violence on the street level. The documentary bounces back-and-forth between the two groups, not only following the groups’ lead mentors doing everything they can to keep the group’s members out of trouble but some of the participants as well, who are trying to figure out their life and future while avoiding getting sucked into the endless cycle of violence.

Right from the opening minutes of the film, Liu’s and Altman’s approach to exploring the epidemic through the eyes of two self-help groups, instead of through various archival or talking-heads footage, pays off. The documentary never attempts to give the viewer a big history lesson, only briefly explaining near the beginning of the film how Chicago has reached such dangerous levels of gun violence. Liu and Altman focus entirely on the real people in the situation, following them in their home and community lives rather than just sitting them down for interviews and calling it a day.

This tactic not only makes All These Sons much more emotional and affecting, but it also shows just how deeply ingrained and far-reaching gun violence is both in Chicago and in the country as a whole. The film centers around three participants in the program, but the directors spend the most time with a man named Shamont, who goes on a difficult journey of self-discovery throughout the documentary. The directors follow him as he confronts various battles, physically and metaphysically, trying to figure out how to craft a future within a system that doesn’t provide many options. Shamont’s story in particular is deeply affecting, perhaps the most affecting part of the documentary, because of how personal it is and how much access the filmmakers get into his day-to-day life. His story is perfect proof that the directors’ choice to focus on the people at the street level makes the documentary much more powerful than just explaining the situation could ever be.

Even with these specific focuses in mind, All These Sons is a bit too short and a bit too unfocused. Although all of the topics and themes that the film explores are incredibly important, the documentary would benefit from a little more space to dive into these ideas more freely. The most obvious example is when the film occasionally highlights the Police’s role in perpetrating violence and not protecting the community, resulting in more fear for the community’s residents and even more violence. These ideas are only talked about for short periods at various points in the documentary, even though they are incredibly important in explaining how things have escalated over time, and how they will likely continue to escalate if firm systemic change is not made. If the film was just a little bit longer, this idea and others like it could have been explored and highlighted in an even more affecting way.

All These Sons is a deeply personal look at an epidemic that has destroyed too many innocent lives, families and communities over the years. It is a consistently tough watch, but Liu’s and Altman’s approach always keeps the documentary thought-provoking and impactful.

(tribecafilm.com/films/all-these-sons-2021)

Author rating: 6/10

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