With a name like G-Dog you would expect the documentary to be about the hard life of inner city gangs. The truth is that the film is not so much about gang life, but those trying to get out of it. That unique perspective on what could have easily been another cliché documentary elevates the film to a whole new level.
At the heart of the story is Father Greg Boyle, a white Jesuit priest who has spent the last 25 years in the toughest part of East Los Angeles. Father Boyle is not your average priest. Drawn into the violence of the neighborhood, he has spent the last two and a half decades helping the community through his gang intervention organization Homeboy Industries.
The documentary chronicles a year in the life of the organization, one of the toughest years it has ever had to face. With the economy in downturn, the film shows us a true glimpse of what its like to put yourself right there on the edge and ask nothing in return.
Boyle (known around the community as G-Dog) works under the philosophy that “nothing stops a bullet like a job.” That principle is what drives his organization and currently brings in 12,000 rival gang members in off the streets every year in search of help.
Given the subject matter, Academy Award winning filmmaker Freida Mock seems to approach the film from a rather tame standpoint. The entire first half plays more like an advertisement for the organization than an unbiased look at Boyle and the community. It’s not until about halfway through that the narrative seems to really delve into the complex questions of Boyle’s background and what drove him to become the man he is today.
What makes Boyle such a unique character study is his honesty and total lack of ego. The film portrays him as both a realist and visionary, someone that got fed up with all the tragedy and decided to do something about it.
Just as interesting are the former gang members that are now executives at the organization. Boyle’s right hand man is Hector Verdugo, the associate executive director of Homeboy. Verdugo grew up in East L.A. “Gang life style was in our family-all my aunts and uncles were involved. It was easy to get into the violent lifestyle of being a gang member and looking forward to going to juvenile hall to prove yourself. You had to go to juvenile detention. When you got out, you had to go to state prison,” he explains in the movie. “It’s a horrible way of thinking, but it is what it is.”
Father G explains that when he no longer oversees Homeboy, he expects a person like Verdugo, not a priest, to run the place. “It’s an honor to sit at his desk and to take a load off one of the greatest people on Earth. I get to help…I want to help as much as I can,” he passionately tells the cameras.
Father Boyle’s story is one just ready to be made into a feature film. His drive and selflessness has completely transformed a community once considered to be one of the worst in the country. The staff at Homeboy Enterprises is raw and real, they throw no punches and expect you to do the same. That level of mutual respect, clear in interviews with everyone on staff and even people new to the program, carries a lot of weight with those just venturing into that world.
It is appropriate that the film makes its premiere at the Los Angeles Film Festival this weekend. The problems discussed in the film take place only miles from the festival venue and should quite literally hit very close to home for many viewers.
Mock’s approach may use kid gloves but it is really the one-on-one interviews with Boyle and his staff that make the documentary something special. Whether you come away liking the film or not, you will find yourself rooting for Boyle and his cause.
G-Dog will be shown at the Los Angeles Film Festival this Sunday at 4:30 p.m. For more information visit Gdogthemovie.com.