Crips & Bloods: Made in America

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Crips & Bloods: Made in America

Release Date: Jan. 23 [limited]

Director: Stacy Peralta

Writers: Stacy Peralta & Sam George

Cinematographer: Tony Hardmon

Studio/Run Time: Balance Vector, 93 mins.

Stacy Peralta, best known for his films about skaters and surfers, may not seem like the best filmmaker to untangle the complicated history of gang violence in Los Angeles. But his previous film, Riding Giants, is one of the rare surfing documentaries that appeals to non-surfers like myself, and applying that same sense of storytelling and visual style to a weightier subject actually works surprisingly well.

Watch the trailer for Crips & Bloods: Made in America:

In Crips & Bloods: Made in America, Peralta tells the history and the present-day reality of Southern California’s most notorious gangs, and he does it by bringing his talking head interviews to life. Although he’s never seen and rarely heard in the film, I can only assume that he’s an excellent interviewer, able to illicit passionate, angry, articulate commentary from mothers and gang bangers and community activists whose lives have been forever affected.

On the other hand, his explanations for why the gangs started are startlingly simple. He says that years ago, many of these boys were rejected from the Boy Scouts. He carves up the map of Los Angeles as if gangs are the one and only force in the city, which ought to be named Ganglandia. He asks one guy if he’d have turned to the thug life if he’d had other opportunities available, and it’s the kind of dumbed-down question that seems designed to be heard instead of answered; surely it's not the kind of thing he says when he’s not wearing a microphone.

Many of the gang members say their fathers were absent and their mothers never hugged them, which sounds like a harsh accusation against moms. But here’s where Peralta’s strategies come into focus and his talents are used to full effect: one of the mothers says she learned not to get too close to her babies because they’d just be taken away from her, and then Peralta gives us a mesmerizing montage of the faces of mothers, one after the other, sitting in his studio, each with a fresh tear dropping from the eye and down the cheek as the camera glides past. It has to be set up. The timing is too perfect, face after face, and yet I’ll be damned if it isn’t a beautiful encapsulation of the basic emotions at work. As Werner Herzog says, sometimes film captures an “ecstatic truth” even if what’s on screen is a fiction.