Known certainly to many in Los Angeles and even across the country thanks to TV appearances on “Dr. Phil” and “Tavis Smiley,” this Jesuit priest has devoted a quarter century to helping gang members leave that life behind in exchange for training, counseling and jobs with Homeboys Industries, which he founded in a gang neutral area of downtown.
It seems strange that no one thought to make a doc about this remarkable man and his gang intervention program before. But Oscar-winner Freida Mock, who admitted at the world premiere of “G-Dog” at the LA Film Fest she knew little about Father Boyle until she rolled her cameras, took up that challenge.
“G-Dog” spends a year following Greg Boyle on his daily rounds, the year being 2010 which proved a time of extreme trials and hardships. I can’t imagine how much footage she and her tireless crew must have shot but the edited version — a brisk 92 minutes — offers a fully rounded portrait of a man and a mission in a moment of crisis. It’s a strong, vibrant and resolute film that captures the essence of the not-so-little miracles happening in downtown L.A.
Put is this way: 12,000 kids come off the street each year to pass through the halls, meeting rooms and work spaces of Homeboys Industries. The success rate for Father Boyle’s program is 70%. Compare that with a failure rate of 70% in all other intervention programs.
You have to figure a large share of that success is due to the particular personality of this priest, who began his clerical duties working the absolute worst and toughest neighborhoods of L.A. He has charm, wit and charisma but most of all he has love and perseverance. He will give up on no one. If some slide back into gang life or drugs, he’s waiting when they get out of prison: He believes in second and third chances. If he says it once in the film, he says it dozens of times: “I love you” and this to kids for whom love is hard to accept.
As he puts it, these are kids “for whom hope is foreign.” No kid with any sense of hope joins a street gang. Father Boyle provides that hope with his motto (printed on seemingly half the T-shirts and jackets seen around Homeboy Industries): “Nothing Stops a Bullet Like a Job.”
The daunting fact of life though is that neither the state nor city government gives any money to the program despite the fact it saves millions of dollars in expenses for incarcerating gang members. The program is not self-sustaining since it offers so many things for free including job training, tattoo removal, counseling, parenthood- and substance abuse-classes.
So mid-year Father Boyce found himself laying off 300 of his workforce. For once the normally ebullient priest looks crestfallen. He keeps hoping that someone or some organization will write that “Big Fat Mama Check,” his program is so in the hole.
Then later, he has to conduct funeral services for two people seen earlier in the movie, cut down in crimes the police may never solve.
While you see these challenges take their toll on the man, he seemingly rebounds from all defeats to face those challenges again and he does this daily.
Mock and her team must have merged themselves into the often-chaotic ebb and flow of people at Homeboys so people forgot their presence. While occasionally she interviews the former gang members or Boyle himself, mostly people act and react as they normally would. The counselors and kids have a natural presence on camera; you can read hope and determination in their faces. It helps too that the camerawork is unobtrusive and steady, calling attention to the drama or even comedy at the focus of any scene and not the camera itself.
The occasional “celebrity” turns up here, such as the mayor, chief of police, county sheriff or the state attorney general, but they all come seeking advice and counsel, not to put in a celebrity appearance. As Sheriff Lee Baca says at one point, “You cannot arrest yourself out of a gang problem. We need more Father Boyle-type organizations.”
That we do.
Opens: April 25, 2013 (Cinedigm’s Docurama)
Production companies: Chanlin Films, American Film Foundation, Sanders & Mock Productions
Director/screenwriter/producer: Freida Mock
Director of photography: Erik Daarstad, Hiroki Miyano
Additional cinematography: Huy Moeller, Andrea Hsiesh, Pedro Kos
Music: Pedro Bromfman
Associate producer/editor: Greg Byers
No rating, 92 minutes