Written by: Adam Vaughn | June 20th, 2021
All These Sons (Joshua Altman/Bing Liu, 2021) 3½ out of 4 stars.
Much can be said about experiencing Joshua Altman and Bing Liu’s All These Sons. It has a momentum and energy that reach rare levels of poetic storytelling, as it sets out to illustrate a closer look at how leaders of the Black community in Chicago have banded together to build a loving, brotherly community among young Black men struggling to find their place. It is this unique, honest form of filmmaking that makes All These Sons a memorable film.
All These Sons starts immediately from the perspective of the West and Southside Chicago streets, getting a tour of the neighboring community and what life is like on the underserved end of Chicago. We hear from a wide array of young men attending the self-help programs MAAFA Redemption Project (West) and IMAN, Green ReEntry (South), who shatter many misconceptions of the situations they face. As the film progresses, we are introduced to the background of three of them – Shamont, Zay, and Charles – and how their personal experiences reflect their own journeys towards redemption. What’s even more heartfelt is seeing how much each of these men care about the boys they look after, and the bond that has formed amongst the group of gentlemen.
All These Sons also shows the political climate in Chicago between gangs, the Chicago Police Department, and the young Black men in the streets caught in the middle. The way directors Altman and Liu utilize Chicago’s crime and violence as the backdrop for what’s at stake only further lends credence to the central idea of bringing these men together; and how easy it is for any one of them to get sucked into the violence and possibly lose their lives in the process. Overall, this was not a film that felt like it had an agenda to push, but was rather an urgent story that simply told it how it is.
The strongest elements to the documentary are the fully immersive moments of pure cinema, where you meet the leaders of the programs – Marshall Hatch Jr. (MAAFA) and Billy Moore (IMAN) – in real, unscripted scenes. Topped with vivid cinematography (that almost feels narrative-driven, in itself), and basic (but highly effective) editing, All These Sons, in a very creative “less-is-more” manner, sends out into the world a bold and much needed message that any person can truly change for the better, if given the right guidance and love from their community.