LA's Gang Problem: What Would Jesus and Gandhi Do?

Interview with director of Father G and the Homeboys

By Tom Cendejas
Published on LatinoLA: July 5, 2007

LA's Gang Problem: What Would Jesus and Gandhi Do?

"Father G and the Homeboys" is the first documentary about Fr. Greg Boyle and the visionary work of "Homeboy Industries". Homeboy works to provide training and employment to those in East L.A. who are at risk for joining or staying in gangs. Fr. Greg is often known as "the Saint of Boyle Heights" and has turned around countless lives with his motto, "Nothing stops a bullet like a job". Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's new "prevention and intervention" gang policy has been heavily influenced by Fr. Boyle's pioneering work.

"Father G and the Homeboys" screens once only at the Dances with Films Festival, Sunday July 8, 12: 30 pm at the Laemmle's Sunset 5 Theatres, 8000 Sunset Blvd.

Producer, co-director and East L.A. area schoolteacher John Bohm sat down for an interview.

Q: Can you tell us how you decided to make a film about Fr. Boyle and Homeboy Industries?

A: When I was first considering making a documentary, I thought I would follow six students at my school who were "at risk", and see how they grew from being these adorable children to becoming, in some cases, violent adults. I then heard about Fr. Greg and his work. He asked me to read the book written about him ("G-Dog and the Homeboys" by Celeste Fremon) and I immediately fell in love with his philosophy and loving but firm approach. I also found him to be familiar to me in some ways...I grew up Catholic, and knew priests like him: warm, compassionate and spiritual without being preachy. Right away, I knew I had found my subject.

Q: The actual filming of the movie took you two years and you follow the compelling stories of four people, Joe, "Spider", Frances and Joey Ray, who struggle to leave "la vida loca". How did you find them?

A: I quickly found that Fr. Greg doesn't want the spotlight on him, and he gently directs newcomers to the Homeboy offices to start getting to know the young people he works with. One person led me to another. None of them had an easy time leaving gangs, and there were times where they went in and out of jail or as the film shows, found that they were still trapped by what other people thought of them.

Q: Speaking of that, what underlying truths did you discover that people who stereotype gang members might miss?

A: The possibility of change and desire for connection that each person has, no matter what the circumstances. People don't realize that many gang members have had this "legacy" passed on to them. There's a picture of "Spider" as a little boy sitting on his parents bed, and there's drugs all around him. His parents were even married in jail. That's the kind of family these kids have to accept as "normal". But the gang "familia" is very conditional. During filming "Spider" spent time in jail. When he was incarcerated, he was deeply hurt that his gang 'homies' didn't even buy his baby diapers. But his "Homeboy family" did. They loved him unconditionally, as Jesus would. "Spider" now says Homeboy is his real family.

Q:It sounds like the cycle of gang involvement is like the cycle of abuse.

A: Definitely. I once had a little girl in my classroom who wouldn't speak to anyone. She was already someone that people had begun to write off as unreachable. Some veteran teachers are resigned to the endless procession of kids who get hardened by their environment. When I finally spoke to the girl's mother, she told me that the father was a gang member and drug addict, and that during his "watch" he and his friends were high and took turns abusing her. When I heard that, I cried, and realized there's often so much pain beneath the surface. When these kids get older, they take the choice that allows them to express the pain they've pent up inside through violence.

Q: How did the subjects of the film react to seeing their stories on screen?

A: Everyone has been very pleased. They make pains to make it clear that they've grown even more since the filming. Spider says "you can't even see the tattoos that much anymore." Each one has been grateful that they've been shown as complex human beings, rather than just as "gangsters". Fr. Greg is also very happy...he's typically humble and glad that the focus of the film is often on the people he's trying to help rather than solely on himself.

Q: What are your hopes for the film?

A: Of course I hope it gets theatrical distribution, as well as becomes available on the net and DVD. But I also hope it will be used in middle schools and high schools, especially in urban areas with similar problems. I'd also like it to be seen around the globe...much of the world is familiar with L.A.'s gang problems, and the themes are universal.

Q: And your next documentary?

A: It will be on a subject very close to my heart regarding the educational world.

About Tom Cendejas:
Tom Cendejas is a freelance journalist, screenwriter and online film critic. His Latino-themed screenplay has just been purchased by Paramount/Nickelodeon. He can be reached at tomcend@gmail.com

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