Charm City begins with a look into a city street corner that could have been filmed in any low income, urban neighborhood within the United States.
But unlike many films that choose to focus on just one aspect of life in one of our nation’s major metropolitan areas, Marilyn Ness, the film’s Director, along with a local Baltimore-based film team sought to craft a story from more than just one perspective.
“In late 2014, we were seeing a lot of high profile deaths in police custody,” Ness stated during a question and answer session following a screening of Charm City on Thursday, December 20 in New York City. “We wondered what is happening day in, day out, and the thing documentary film can do very well is be patient and be in one place for a long period of time. And so we wondered what’s happening in the day-to-day for the police and the policed.”
The first of these perspectives–the policed–was introduced to the audience during the film’s opening scene. We meet Clayton “Mr. C” Guyton, a former correctional officer who has taken on the role of mediator, counselor, peacemaker, and founder of the Rose Street Community Center for over 20 years. He sat in front of the community center announcing potential job opportunities to an attentive group of neighborhood residents in an area we soon learn has a 50% unemployment rate.
Working alongside Mr. C is Alex Long, the Rose Street Community Center’s Youth Coordinator. The film follows Long from his work on Rose Street to his position with Safe Streets, a neighborhood anti-violence program. We watch as he runs a kickboxing program for children in the neighborhood to keep them inside and off the streets at night. “He opened a gym on the ground floor that’s now serving 70 kids in an after school program. He has contracts with the local public schools and he brings them in and does kickboxing. And when there’s violence, he keeps them there until 11 o’clock at night,” Ness elaborated.
The second perspective–the police–is shown to the audience through the lens of the Southern District Police Station’s officers. Major Monique Brown, an African-American female police officer for 16 years, and Eric Winston, a young African-American male police officer who has been in his position for 2 years are among the film’s cops patrolling the Southern District, otherwise known as the “Overdose Capital”. As she drives up and down the city streets in a police car, we hear about Monique’s childhood growing up in Baltimore and how addiction has affected her life and the lives of people she loves. We watch as Winston responds to a noise complaint during his shift, and when he arrives, he finds high school students practicing a marching band routine in an alleyway. Instead of lecturing them or telling them to keep the noise down, he chats with the students and stays to watch them play.
Brandon Scott, the youngest city councilman, is the third perspective in the film. As the camera follows him throughout his duties governing the city of Baltimore, we are shown other city council members expressing their frustration with Baltimore’s police force. Although they have increased money allocated for law enforcement, they haven’t seen an equal decline in the city’s crime rate. In 2016, only 36% of homicides were solved. The lack of reduction in violence has caused the city’s population to drop as a result. Although built to support a population of 1 million, Baltimore is now home to 620,000 citizens.
In a pivotal scene, Scott brought together police officers and teenagers for a workshop. Through a series of exercises and one-on-one talks, they were given the opportunity to share their experiences outside of their roles as law enforcement and civilians. Instead, they engaged in meaningful discourse as members of the same community discussing what it’s like to live in Charm City. The intent behind the workshop highlighted one of the key missions that Ness sought out to accomplish with the documentary’s distribution and subsequent outreach: bringing together different views to establish a common understanding.
During a discussion about Mr. C’s role in the film with a veteran of the Baltimore police department, Ness recalled the officer saying “I always dreamed that I could provide that kind of service to a community. But I see why I can’t, and to watch it is breathtaking.” Ness explained the importance “for police to understand that they’re not meant to be supermen in these communities,” and realize that they even if they wanted to, they can’t. However, along with achieving this understanding, it’s vital for them to identify the local leaders and provide them with the proper resources and support to help them prevent violence where it’s possible.
For more information on where Charm City is being screened in your area or to learn more about hosting a screening of your own, visit the Charm City Upcoming Screenings page.