Best Feature Documentary Grand Prize!

It was great bringing CIRCLE UP to the screen for the first time at the Rhode Island International Film Festival on Friday. It felt pretty intense and meaningful having film subjects Janet, AJ, and Charmise there on stage for the Q&A. Several audience members were crying and hugging them after the show.

We just got news, too, that out of 295 films screened at RIFF, the film won Best Feature Documentary Grand Prize!

I thought the film fit very well with the two shorts that preceded it: The Geneva Connection, a French fiction piece by Benôit Martin about a group of young people heading towards conflict over 40 euros owed to one of them, and Revolving Doors, a documentary by James Burns about the struggles of father who is recently released from prison to stay clean and support his family. Both films take a restorative approach to societal harm, as does CIRCLE UP.

Kudos to RIFF Program Director Shawn Quirk for the thoughtful programming!

P.S. While we were there, my daughter Maya set up an Instagram account for CIRCLE UP - follow us @circleupdoc.

World Premiere August 11

We are excited to be heading to the premiere of CIRCLE UP at the Rhode Island International Film Festival this Friday, August 11. It's been a long road and we are happy to finally share Janet and Clarissa's journey towards healing after the murders of their sons. We've followed them as they faced their son's murderers and offered forgiveness in exchange for accountability. We show their heartbreak and their hope. They humble us as they share their experiences with young people who are devastated by the violence around them. These courageous mothers revisit the unthinkable again and again, hoping to break the chain of violence and revenge so another family does not suffer as they have. 

Later this fall, we will be launching a national campaign to promote restorative justice practices as an alternative to the traumatic re-victimization and revenge killings that many survivors of homicide victims experience within the legal system and their communities. By pairing screenings of our film with survivor-led circles, we hope to bring restorative justice to schools, prisons, and community groups across America. In Boston we are partnering with city government, universities, and community groups to bring this important work forward. 

We're grateful for the many grants and contributions that made CIRCLE UP possible. Please consider donating to our tax-deductible impact campaign today!

We are aiming for a Boston premiere in January 2018, paired with a Q&A and community discussion facilitated by survivors of violence.. 

Meeting with the Field

We just returned from a week in sunny Oakland, CA giving a sneak preview to an enthusiastic audience of advocates and practicioners at the National Association for Community and Restorative Justice. Julie also co-led a panel discussion about the challenges and joys of documenting restorative justice.

We met all kinds of passionate and interesting people who want to end violence and mass incarceration in their communities: social workers, teachers, school administrators, prison officials, judges and the formerly incarcerated. In one extraordinary lunch conversation, a woman told Genny that participating in a victim-offender dialogue gave her a reason to keep living. "Most [prisoners] on the inside don't know there's any hope or forgiveness out there for us. They never let us be accountable. Our purpose was to rot in that cell." It was just one of many conversations we had that left a strong impression on us that CIRCLE UP could serve a larger purpose in getting dialogues started about the role of forgiveness and accountability in healing from the trauma of violence. 

We came home from the NACRJ with a renewed sense of purpose and that extra push needed to finish the film and get it out the door for film festivals and community screenings. Check back for updates on our journey!

Healing and Celebrating

Today would have been the 30th birthday of Willie Marquis Turner had he not been murdered six years ago in Charlestown.  I spent the day with his family, including his mother Clarissa Turner and sister Chardanney Dozier-Turner. It was 95+ degrees when we pulled up to his graveside and they tied shiny blue "happy birthday" balloons to his gravestone, set out a small cherry-topped cake, and signed greeting cards for Marquis.

I felt privileged to be there to mark this day: a day of both healing and celebrating for this family.

Earlier that morning I interviewed Chardanney, now 20, who described how she felt emotionally paralyzed upon losing her brother at age 14. "I felt stuck, and I wanted to be stuck. I loved stuck." She tried to end her life at age 16, wanting only to be with her brother.

Chardanney then described her journey of healing: "It took a lot of things - therapy, religion, family, positivity - to get where I am. One of the major factors in her transformation was her mother Clarissa, her "superwoman," who turned this tragic event into an opportunity for healing for herself and community by founding a homicide survivor support group called Legacy Lives On.

This is a beautiful family whose story I am graced to tell.  What a powerful last shooting day in this five-year journey to make this film.