EMPz 4 Life Allan King

National treasure Allan King returns to once again put his documentary contemporaries to shame. The subject this time is Brian Henry, a tireless volunteer advocate for youth on the mean streets of Scarborough, ON. The victim of a troubled past himself (complete with a stint in prison), he makes up for lost time by energetically overseeing a group of at-risk black teenagers without pay and largely without thanks. He fights an uphill battle — while many of his closed-off charges put up walls, certain members of the system incredibly accuse Henry of being "self-serving” as he does his unpaid damnedest to keep teenagers in school and out of jail. Peppered with the alternative after-school classes where students learn the math they never thought they’d master, the film explodes the inspirational inner-city narratives of fiction and documentary alike. Instead of the inevitability of Horatio Alger hard work paying off in triumph, there are the infinite outer and inner factors that knock the boys off balance and destroy their self-esteem. Leaving aside the factors of home — none of the young men seems to have two parents — there is the constant harassment by the police, who racially profile the students into their self-fulfilling prophecy. King pulls off the feat of sympathising without being patronising; he stays out of the way of his subjects as they explain themselves to each other and puts the pieces together in the editing room. It’s an astoundingly subtle performance that busts stereotypes and breaks cliché moulds to get to the heart of Henry, his boys, and their never-ending plight. Those who want false hope are advised to look elsewhere; those who want the straight goods should queue up early. (A Home In The Hood)