For Ahkeem is directed by Jeremy S. Levine and Landon Van Soest.
Jeremy S. Levine and Landon Van Soest’s For Ahkeem is a simple, defiantly low-concept documentary. Shot in the cinéma vérité tradition, it tells the story of Daje Shelton, a young woman in Missouri navigating her adolescence. There’s no obvious hook or gimmick to speak of. The inciting incident is her being sent by a court to an alternative high school after an altercation with a student that is never elaborated upon or referred to again. What follows is a naturalistic depiction of the next several years of her life.
What’s remarkable about this film, from it’s opening moments, is how intimate it feels. Daje and her mother have an intense, frank discussion about her court appearance, and it feels like a conversation we might overhear on the subway, as though we’re not supposed to be listening. For Ahkeem is full of such raw conversations. Individuals confront one another, are told brutal things, and make themselves heard, seemingly oblivious to the camera. It often feels as though we are watching a scripted drama.
It helps that Daje had a pretty eventful life during the years they shot the film. She gets pregnant midway through, and this understandably is the focus of the rest of the picture. It results in some remarkably tense, spellbinding scenes in which Daje informs various people in her life. The film’s most astonishing moment comes when she delivers her baby, and the father first meets his son. The emotional overload he experiences is something to witness. It’s like looking into the sun.
The death of Michael Brown occurred while filming took place, and we see the reaction of Daje as well as her classmates and teachers. It’s a fascinating aspect of the story. While this event is not immediately relevant, it overshadows the rest of the film, which is very much concerned with race and history and the cyclical nature of poverty.
Despite the undeniable craft of For Ahkeem, one gets the sense they got lucky to discover a subject as interesting as Daje. The development of her relationships is very compelling, and several characters have actual arcs. I found the journey of her boyfriend particularly affecting. To say more would spoil it.
When the film ended, I felt I could have watched more. I wanted to know where Daje’s life would take her, and how her child is doing. I would love to see Levine and Soest make a sequel in a few years to update us on Daje’s life.
For Ahkeem is an involving, well-constructed documentary with social commentary, humor, and drama to spare. It is well-worth seeking out.