Truth through a Lens

by Louis Proyect on March 11, 2015

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UPDATE: As should be obvious from the comment below by the director of this fine film, I inadvertently supplied a link to the full film (which I hope that the production team will now protect by password) when a trailer was intended.

This is a timely addendum to the Race and Police series of articles that concluded on February 26th. Yesterday I saw a documentary titled “Truth Through a Lens” as part of my coverage for the upcoming Socially Relevant Film Festival in New York (http://www.ratedsrfilms.org/) that runs from March 16 to 22. As an accredited member of the press, I was able to preview both narrative and documentary films that were password protected. “Truth Through a Lens” will allow you to get some insights into how a community activist named Dennis Flores managed to lead the largely Latino Sunset Park community in Brooklyn in both the types of protests we have seen in the aftermath of Ferguson as well as those associated with Occupy, and in one instance an action that effectively combined both.

The film was directed by Justin Thomas, a young African-American documentary filmmaker who seen in the closing minutes of the film being arrested by Sunset Park cops for the “crime” of filming in front of the station house. Thomas is a remarkable director who is doing through film what so many of his peers are doing through their activism: confronting injustice. In 2011, he served as executive producer for a short narrative film titled “The Grey Movie” about three young antiwar activists organizing against the invasion of Iraq for which Albert Maysles served as advisers. Mayseles died a week ago at the age of 88 after a long career making documentaries that often took up the cause of the underdog.

Dennis Flores is a long-time community organizer in Sunset Park who ran with a “tagging” gang in his teens. For young men, writing graffiti on the sides of subway cars gave them a thrill even if it could land them in jail. After many run-ins with the cops that reeked of the arbitrary behavior of the Ferguson cops, Flores ended up in Rikers Island where he met older and politicized Puerto Rican prisoners who urged him to become an activist.

His own victimization by the cops inspired him to begin bring a video camera to protests in Sunset Park, a Latino version of Ferguson, Missouri. Justin Thomas’s film shows repeated violations of elementary constitutional rights just like the kind that can be seen in protests against cop killings across America today.

The climax of the film shows Dennis Flores joined by community activists in an Occupy type protest in front of an apartment building that has fallen victim to landlord neglect. They do a “mike check” in front of the building calling attention to the abuses. Later that day the cops arrest him for doing nothing more than leading a film crew into the basement in order to prove that the landlord has filled it with garbage and thus created a hotbed for vermin and insects.

This is a film that as many activists as possible should see. It not only demonstrates the power of a community to resist around a charismatic leader but to show the potential for a movement that unites people of all races around a clear class line. It is an inspiring and well-crafted film that pays tribute to the gifts of a young filmmaker and the community activist who served as its inspiration.

 

 

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Justin Thomas March 11, 2015 at 11:39 am

Good Afternoon Mr. Proyect,

First of all, I want to thank you so much for your glowing review of my film. Both Mr. Flores and I sincerely appreciate it and it gives us the motivation to move forward with the further development of this film.
Secondly, however, I must request that you remove the link to my entire film that you have posted here with your article. For your readers to have access to this film in it’s entirety online would be to discourage them from coming out to the Socially Relevant Film Festival next week and experiencing the film in theaters. If you would like visual accompaniment to your article, feel free to post the official trailer to the film, which you can find here: https://vimeo.com/92417120.
Thank you very much once again for your review, your support, and your promotion of my film, and I hope to have the opportunity of meeting you next week at the festival.

Sincerely,
Justin Thomas
Film-maker, Director

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