THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
As recent news events have proven, gun violence in our country has become an increasingly frightening problem. It's not just that there's more of it, but also that it seems to have become more extreme and unexplainable. The Aurora movie theater shooting, the Sandy Hook shooting, and the Christopher Dorner situation are prime examples. You'll find gun violence anywhere, but some places seem to have even more of it than others. One such location is Jacksonville, Florida, which has been the state's murder capital for over a decade. The city is the subject of The 904, a documentary about the problem that has been plaguing Jacksonville for a long time. (The title refers to the region's area code.)
The film takes a varied approach to the subject, offering commentary from family members of shooting victims, community activists, and even former violent offenders. Each of them offers personal insight into why Jacksonville has so many murders and what should be done about it. There are two people in particular who are fascinating. One is Richard Collier, a former football player for the Jacksonville Jaguars. He was shot fourteen times during an ambush, needed to have one of his legs amputated, and now is permanently in a wheelchair. Collier talks about how the shooting changed his life forever, taking away his dreams as well as his mobility. The other key figure is Beverly McClain. After her son was murdered, she dedicated her life to helping other grieving families. It's impossible not to be touched by the perseverance McClain and Collier have shown in the face of tragedy.
The 904 ultimately concludes that a major reason for the perpetuation of gun violence is a lack of adequate education in poor parts of the city, which leads to very few employment opportunities later on. One of the interview subjects, who spent years in jail for a violent offense, talks about being unable to find employment after his release. With no viable way to earn an income, he argues, people become desperate and look for ways to feel empowered; brandishing a gun accomplishes that. The documentary argues that better education/employment strategies would go a long way toward helping reduce violence – in Jacksonville and elsewhere.
Gun violence is, of course, a major topic for a film to take on. Running only an hour, The 904 doesn't have the time to go into great depth. It largely serves as a primer on the issue, introducing the questions so that the audience can begin to contemplate their own feelings on it. The film is rather unfocused, so eager is it to touch on every facet of the problem, but there's no denying that it raises some provocative issues and makes a compelling case for the need to implement serious changes in our society if we want to avoid any more senseless killing.
Note: The 904 is an entry in the DigiNext In-Venue Film Festival. It opens on February 22, 2013 and will play for one week at all Digiplex Destinations cinemas in Arizona, California, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. For more information, visit the official Digiplex Destinations website.
The 904 is unrated but contains mature thematic material. The running time is 1 hour.
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