Sunday, January 31, 2021

Sundance with Abe: At the Ready

I’m thrilled to be covering the Sundance Film Festival for the eighth time. This year, I’m not in Park City, Utah, but watching films virtually and reviewing them as soon as I can.

At the Ready
Directed by Maisie Crow
U.S. Documentary Competition

It’s a difficult moment in American history for law enforcement as the subject of defunding the police in the wake of continued systemic racism and brutality towards people of color has become a very prominently-debated topic. There are strong opinions both for and against it, and it’s a matter of great controversy given the belief many have that law and order need to be maintained in some way. That’s especially true when it comes to immigration and the border between Mexico and the United States, an issue that’s even more relevant in cities that are located very close to the intersecting boundaries of those two countries.

This documentary follows students at Horizon High School in El Paso, Texas, where classes in law enforcement are offered and a popular after-school club is all about criminal justice. Teachers prepare students for careers that will find them working within the community and ensuring stability and the rule of law just ten miles away from the Mexican border. The energy of the school and the club is often at odds with the heritage of many of the students, who come from households that don’t always have fond attitudes towards the professions they are enthusiastically considering.

This film zeroes in on one of the complexities of the major conversations about policing and immigration, which is the participation and role of those who identify as members of the minorities that are so frequently mistreated as enforcers of governmental and legal policies. The two shouldn’t stand in conflict with each other, but it’s evidently not that simple, and this film intelligently and sensitively probes the nuanced coexistence of the pride these teenagers feel training for a future they believe in and the loyalty they harbor towards their community and culture.

This is, at its heart, a look at the formation of young minds and the varying influences that shape them. Nothing feels manufactured here, with an authenticity to the sentiments everyone shares. The educators who have spent years working in these careers firmly feel that recruiting talent from the next generation is the most important work they could be doing, and those considering this future aren’t making their choices lightly, but because it means everything to them. There is nothing reductive or broad about this film, which puts faith in individual perspectives and the validity of these opinions and actions because they spark passion and excitement after thoughtful consideration. To apply their conclusions to the general population might be unwise, but there is great power and worth to this insightful and informative sampling.


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