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the evening with Mark Levin, director and producer of BRICK CITY

  • Subject: the evening with Mark Levin, director and producer of BRICK CITY
  • From: Louie Crew <>
  • Date: Sun, 14 Mar 2010 17:09:01 -0400

On Tuesday I attended an evening with Mark Levin, director and producer of
BRICK CITY (on the Sundance TV network).  We watched the first hour
of the series. Then Levin, The Rev. Bob Morris, and Imam W. Deeen Shareef  
reacted, followed by an open discussion with the audience. 

We gathered at Interweave, a community ministry led by Bob Morris+, at
Calvary Church in Summit, NJ.  

Morris and Shareef are active in an interfaith alliance in northern New 
Jersey. It was at a meeting of their group that Levin first met many of 
the people who became central characters in BRICK CITY.
Morris began the evening by passing out copies of a strong critique of 
"Brick City" in the NEW YORK TIMES written by my Rutgers colleague, 
Dr. Clement Price, a major historian.  Among many points, Price objects to
the way that the series focuses almost exclusively on crime and very
little on the kinds of cultural revival going on here over the last three
Levin's sister works for a museum, and Levin said she has made
complaints similar to those of Dr. Price.  
Levin grew up in Elizabeth; his family moved to Maplewood when his
parents thought he was getting too involved with gangs in Elizabeth. 
He attended Columbia High School in Maplewood.  
Recently a  friend who had followed some of Levin's other
documentaries about street violence asked whether he had noticed that
the "C" had been removed from "CHS" at his alma mater.   Bloods had
removed it as a gesture against Cripps -- both groups active now at
that school.
Levin had something at stake personally when accused of knowing a lot
about violence elsewhere but little about violence in his own
hometown.  (Maybe he should have done the series about Maplewood?)
Levin acknowledged that "Brick City" does not give a full story of
Newark.  He acknowledged that his focus helps perpetuate stereotypes
of Newark as a violent place.  He said that the focus was not one he
planned so much as one that opened up in many of his initial onsite
interviews.   He noted that the series shows several local citizens
collaborating to reduce the crime rate.  The crime rate is real, and it is
Before seeing any of the material, I was prepared to
object.  However, in viewing the full first season, I was deeply
moved by the integrity of the 'survivors' at the center of the
series.   Mayor Cory Bookertook serious risks in allowing sustained 
access with no editorial control over the material, and Levin took risks
investing so much attention in one political leader.
I'm not ready to wave a banner in support of the series.  It's
powerful.  It's both disturbing and hopeful.   What it does do, it
does well.  
I wish his focus had been broader.   Levin hopes it will be broader
in the second season, now being prepared.  He said that several fans
of the series are anxiously waiting to learn what happens to several
of the key street figures in the first season, so I doubt the focus
will be radically different.  I would miss them too were they not a 
part of it.   The last thing I want is a film done to please a 
Chamber of Commerce.
Tthe camera work is superb, and the film editor has a love affair 
with the physical beauty of Newark -- its people, its parks, its buildings.
I have such a love affair too, but don't have the zooms and angles to 
see Newark afresh as the film allowed me.  

At one point I was intensely watching a community meeting and then spotted 
at the edge of the frame one of the stations of the cross: that was the 
first time that I noticed the scene was filmed in my own parish, 
on a night that Forrest Whitaker was there.   It was strange to 
find myself in a pew next to that station this morning.
Louie Crew, 377 S. Harrison St., 12D, East Orange, NJ 07018