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A straightforward celebration of a program offering Los Angeles gangbangers the skills and support they need to change their lives, Freida Mock‘s G-Dog takes us within the vast family of Homeboy Industries and shows how intimately its success derives from the personality of its founder, Father Greg Boyle. The feel-good doc should earn some positive buzz in niche theatrical bookings on the way to VOD/DVD release later this month.
Angelenos, who’ve seen the Homeboy brand expand into grocery stores and City Hall over the last couple of years, may need little introduction to the venture, and the priest-befriending-street-toughs archetype has been familiar on screens since the early days of talkies. But that won’t stop viewers from appreciating the chance to spend time with men and women who’ve made transformations others might think were impossible, then gone on to help others do the same.
Boyle, a white-bearded Anglo who refers to himself as G-Dog, is a Jesuit priest with a gift for connection: In the East L.A. of the early ’90s, he took a street-level approach to his ministry even when local police warned him he’d get killed; decades later, he recounts his successes in ways that get well-heeled benefactors to champion his approach — a “no-matter-whatness” offering unconditional love to youths who often never got that feeling of security at home.
Boyle set up moneymaking ventures — a cafe, a screen-printing shop — both to help unemployable kids learn job skills and to fund other projects, from parenting workshops to yoga class, that are offered free to thousands of people a year. (Homeboy also offers laser tattoo removal, erasing gang affiliations for those hoping to enter the workplace or military.)
Taking the honorific “Father” literally, he made his office a place for warm, encouraging heart-to-hearts with anyone who wanted them, and he’s been embraced accordingly — so much so that, when fiscal problems force a mass layoff in 2010, Homeboy employees appear to show more concern for the institution’s survival than for their own incomes.
Mock spends much more time observing this tearful crisis than explaining how Homeboy rebounded from it, and while she lays out some of the facts of Boyle’s biography, she offers little psychological insight into what makes him such a motivated do-gooder. Still, the film is an inspiration for those seeking hope in desperate urban neighborhoods — a story that, while less mind-blowing than Steve James‘s similarly themed The Interrupters, is persuasive in its belief that the cycle of poverty and violence can be broken if enough people put their sentiments into action.
Production Companies: Chanlin Films, American Film Foundation
Director-Screenwriter-Producer: Freida Mock
Directors of photography: Erik Daarstad, Hiroki Miyano
Music: Pedro Bromfman
Editor: Greg Byers
No rating, 92 minutes
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