Nothing stops a bullet like a job.
It’s the says-it-all motto of Father Greg Boyle, the Jesuit priest-turned-inspirational inner-city hero at the center of “G-Dog,” a documentary from Academy Award winner Freida Mock. The film, screening March 25 at 7:30 p.m. at the Wheeler Opera House, is the final movie in the Monday Night Docs series presented in a partnership with Aspen Film.
G-Dog, the nickname given to Father Boyle by the gang members and felons that he counsels and employs, is the charismatic visionary behind the nation’s largest, most successful gang intervention program. But Homeboy Industries — and its underlying enterprises including Homeboy Bakery, Homeboy Silkscreen, Homeboy/Homegirl Merchandise, Homeboy Diner, Homeboy Farmers Markets and Homegirl Café — is much more than a place of employment for the tattoo-clad gang members and felons who might not otherwise find gainful employment and a way out of street life; it’s also a support system.
“Gangs are bastions of conditional love, and one of the ways to counteract it is to offer community, which will always trump gang, and that’s what happens at Homeboy Industries,” Boyle recently told NPR. “It’s a therapeutic, multi-systemic service place. You know, it’s a secure base in psychological terms.”
Boyle manages to make such a genuine connection with the troubled youth and adults in his program, that his retention rate is nearly 70 percent, or more than double the national average.
“Homeboy Industries is like an AA meeting,” he says. “You know, you’ve got folks who are 20 years sober, folks who are 20 minutes sober, and guys who are drunk, you know. So it’s kind of a spectrum and a continuum, and the folks, if you will, who are 20 years in recovery in terms of gangs are, you know, putting their arms around the younger guys and saying, yeah, you don’t want to react that way.”
Ultimately, “G-Dog,” which split the award for Audience Favorite at the 2012 Aspen Filmfest, is everything you want from a documentary: an unlikely hero, triumph over adversity, and even small bits of humor spliced into a very American survival story. Filmed mostly in 2010, the struggles of Boyle and his staff are made even more tenuous as the operation strives to survive amidst the economic downturn, and large-scale lay-offs threaten the entire project.
Those struggles are inter-cut with speeches that Father Boyle gives at various locations, sometimes to groups of teenagers in juvenile detention, sometimes on “Dr. Phil” promoting his book in hopes of raising money for Homeboy Industries, and other times for heads of similar organizations. The inspiring speeches offer insight into Boyle’s passion: raising up those that society has cast off as a way to bring life to the entire community.
Nearly 12,000 kids come off the streets and fresh from jail each year to pass through the halls, meeting rooms and work spaces of Homeboys Industries. And their tale of redemption and hope provides a fitting conclusion to this year’s Wheeler-Aspen Film documentary series. For the screening, Hector Verdugo, associate executive director of Homeboy Industries, whose own story is showcased in the film, will be in attendance and will lead a question-and-answer session following the film. Part of the proceeds from the film screening will also go to Homeboy Industries.
Presented by Aspen Film
Monday, March 25, 7:30 p.m.
At the Wheeler Opera House