Made in America

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Sundance Film Festival

PARK CITY -- Following "Riding Giants'" big-wave surfing excursion, feature documentary director Stacy Peralta returns to Southern California with "Made in America," albeit the mean streets of south Los Angeles rather than the Santa Monica hardtop of "Dogtown and Z-Boys."

In its examination of the origins of the notorious African-American street gangs, the Bloods and Crips, "Made in America" adopts a far more serious tone than either of Peralta's previous docs, which may make it most suitable for cable broadcast and DVD.

In a typical pubcaster-style setup, Peralta chronicles African-Americans' post-WW II westward migration and the establishment of black working class enclaves in Los Angeles during the '50s. Longtime south L.A. residents, many of them former gang members, relate how blacks were shut out of predominantly white organizations like the Boy Scouts of America and subsequently formed their own clubs, some of which became the precursors to street gangs.

The rival groups of the Crips and Bloods emerged in the neighborhood following the 1965 Watts riots and erosion of the black power movement's favorable influence. Defined by color-coded clothing, gestural signs and block-specific neighborhood boundaries, they've been engaged in ongoing internecine conflict for decades, as the death toll and incarceration rate among African-American men has soared throughout the area.

According to Peralta, himself an L.A. native, the statistics are staggering: Over the past 30 years, 100,000 people have been shot and 15,000 murdered as a result of gang violence in South Los Angeles -- more than even the long-running Northern Ireland conflict.

Combining archival photos, TV and film footage and first-person interviews with current and former gang members, as well as academics and community leaders, Peralta initially creates a persuasive account of the oppression and economic marginalization that have affected Los Angeles' inner-city black neighborhoods.

While Peralta's predominantly African American primary sources provide a unique and sympathetic outlook on gang rivalry and violence, much of the information about institutional discrimination against blacks, particularly the well-documented animosity demonstrated by the Los Angeles Police Department, feels conspicuously dated. The absence of supportive voices from the mainstream black political and Civil Rights communities further compromises the film's impact.

As "Made in America" unspools without introducing sufficient countervailing viewpoints, tucking information about the gangs' wide-ranging illegal activities deep into the running time, the film shifts from a reportorial documentary style to more of an advocacy approach. Although the film's strength is clearly its definitive point of view, this perspective sometimes comes at the expense of a more rigorously objective treatment.

Technical aspects are impressive with T.J. Mahar's energetic editing giving particular attention to the incorporation of distinctive archival images.

MADE IN AMERICA
Verso Entertainment and Balance Vector Productions present a Form Production
Credits:
Director: Stacy Peralta
Writers: Stacy Peralta, Sam George
Producers Baron Davis, Dan Halsted, Stacy Peralta, Jesse Dylan
Executive producers: Steve Luczo, Quincy "QD3" Jones III
Director of photography: Tony Hardmon
Music: Kamasi Washington, Matter
Editor: T.J. Mahar
Running time -- 105 minutes
No MPAA rating
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