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Documentary shown as part of Black History Month

Mar 12, 2018 05:24PM ● Published by Ruth Hendricks

Image from documentary “Street Fighting Men.” (utahfilmcenter.org)

In honor of Black History Month, county library staff offered a free film screening of a documentary called “Street Fighting Men” at the library’s Viridian Event Center on Feb. 1. The showing was part of a “Culture in Motion” program by the Utah Film Center.

The documentary was also shown at other locations during February, including Peery’s Egyptian Theater in Ogden and UVU’s Fulton Library Auditorium in Orem.

Filmmaker Andrew James was on hand to answer questions after the show. “This is a film about the human spirit,” said James. It was also described as a modern American narrative: a story of hard work, faith and manhood in a community left to fend for itself.

James made the film over three years of shooting and three years of editing. His intention was to make the film experiential. There were no interviews or narration. Rather, the viewer learned by observing moments from the lives of three men from different generations living in Detroit.

At first, James was filming on his own time and money. Later he got a grant from Sundance to help finance it.

James chose the city of Detroit because he found it interesting, with many layers in its economy and history. After choosing the city, he saw an article about the man named Jack Rabbit and looked him up online. James became interested in the issues of racism and inequality. 

Detroit residents were helpful to James. When he was filming, people came up to him and said, “Dude, you need to leave, someone’s going to jack your camera.” One man named Luke met him in the street and invited James to his home. He became one of the film’s subjects.

Asked how he was able to stay with the men through pivotal life moments, James said it was just by hanging out with them a lot and becoming their friend. “We were open with them,” he said. “We’d swap stories.” It became a reciprocal relationship where it was fun for the men to show James around.

The man nicknamed Jack Rabbit was a retired policeman who used his own time to help fight crime in his neighborhood. When Jack participated in a radio program, the host asked him why he didn’t enjoy his retirement in Florida. Jack said, “Detroit is my home. I have time, blood, sweat and tears invested here.”

Jack operated a towing and snow-removal service and cruised the streets at night in his tow truck. He watched a van parked at a house down the street and recorded the license number. Later he videotaped men at a warehouse. “I’m trying to keep the community safe,” said Jack.

Jack was shown along with others in the Neighborhood Watch going door to door through various buildings, searching for a murder suspect. “We will stand up against the criminals and drug dealers that are killing our community and destroying our families,” said Jack.

Secondly, a young man named Deris tried to finish school while helping to care for his baby daughter. Deris was part of a program called Young Detroit Builders, which helped young adults from poor families get general education as well as training on construction of houses and office buildings.

Deris had a setback when he appeared with a black eye, saying he had been jumped and robbed. He tried to get back on track with school, but later he was shown in jail, with his mother coming to visit. The viewer doesn’t know if he was wrongly jailed or not. “I always told myself I wouldn’t be a musician or something like that, because I wanted to be there for my kids,” said Deris to his mother.

The third man, Luke, was shown working to rebuild an abandoned home. It was heartbreaking when later the home burned down. Luke believed someone threw a bomb in the house. He wasn’t home at the time but lost everything he owned.

Luke had just bought an insurance policy on the home but learned that the policy was not valid for 30 days. “You’re all I got now,” Luke sobbed while hugging his faithful dog, huddled in an old car.

A scene with Jack Rabbit ended the film when a boy from the neighborhood pushed his bike along the sidewalk in front of Jack’s house where he sat on the porch. Jack called the boy over and put the dislodged bike chain back on the gear. When the boy thanked him, Jack said, “That’s what big guys do for little guys.” 

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