Official selection of the 25th Black Harvest Film Festival
LOYALTY— 4 STARS
As a school teacher by day beyond this role as a film critic, let me say that there can never be enough messages sent about the troubling epidemic of bullying. All are necessary. All are helpful. We need every personal testimonial. We need every pamphlet. We need every artistic measure of expression that can gather attention, provoke thoughts, and change a few hearts. The Chicago-made short film Loyalty from filmmaker Ira Childs is one of those necessary contributions. The short recently played at the 25th Black Harvest Film Festival at the Siskel Center.
Shot on the premises of Holy Family School in the North Lawndale/Homan Square neighborhood of the west side of Chicago, Loyalty presents a collection of young boys who make a series of choices that only get worse. Two middle school boys (Emmanuel Latim and Daniel Spencer) are gathered around a talkative and braggadocious ringleader named Thomas (Donald Woods III) as they gawk over apps on his phone in the school locker room after playing some basketball. Thomas takes notice of Jacob (Steven Heard), a smiley younger student coming-and-going through the bathroom wearing a hat. When Thomas takes the youngster’s hat and the little Jacob steps back, the other boys drag him away to accost him off-screen.
A fourth student, C.J. (Terry Lee Ricks III), saw the whole thing but hasn’t been forthcoming about the details. He finds himself answering to his worried mother Kendra (Anita Nicole Brown) and higher authorities in the form of a police detective (Shawn R. Wilson) and school principal (James Humphries). C.J. stands on what he thinks the titular term of this short film means.
LESSON #1: WHERE LOYALTY FAILS — C.J. doesn’t want to be a “snitch” to his friends. However, he and his peers cannot readily see the greater ramifications for their actions. Loyalty fails when it prevents honesty from being shared and upheld. Lying is still lying.
LESSON #2: COURAGE AND INTEGRITY BEAT LOYALTY — The bravery and conviction to tell the truth is greater than misguided allegiance. Courage and integrity matter even more when those traits are hard to find or in short supply. Choose friends with these better qualities.
LESSON #3: THE HARDEST THING TO DO IS OFTEN THE RIGHT THING TO DO — Now we’re talking! In this one line delivered with assertive comfort from Humphries’ school leader, the necessity of better choices becomes poignant. Decision-making can be modeled and encouraged for all ages.
For a shoestring budget passion project from a budding filmmaker, Loyalty is composed smartly and cleanly from top to bottom. How many films of this type, feature-length or otherwise, always seem to want to tint or filter urban areas in seedy darkness in almost blatantly profiling way? That is not so here. Cinematographer John Wesley Norton makes an outstanding use of natural light pouring in gymnasium windows to light this narrative. There is a near-ethereal quality that conveys hope over despair.
Loyalty achieves that glow without sacrificing a sense of realism. All that captured light shines on smooth camera movements and a voyeuristic use of steadicam shifting around personal obstacles by operator Joseph Markarian. Most of the time, lower angles are used to be the gaze and the eye level of youths looking up at their fateful decisions and guiding adult presences. That’s a perfect presentation choice for this type of story. The same can be said for the rhythmic original music of Tracy Gardner to guide tone without overpowering the moment.
More importantly, this short film and the writing of Ira Childs could not be more on message to the topic of bullying and how to address it with young men, no matter their demographic. You don’t have to know these performers. You just have to hear what they are telling you. One could play Loyalty in any classroom setting, urban, suburban, or rural and the life lessons would ring true. That’s a fantastic accomplishment from a humble, yet determined source.
LOGO DESIGNED BY MEENTS ILLUSTRATED (#831)