DETROIT—Detroit is the setting for yet another documentary, but for once, the city itself is not the focus. It’s the backdrop for a film that provides an intimate look at the privately operated and specialized anti-crime organization, Detroit Threat Management Center.
Detroit’s crime statistics are infamous and the city’s budget can barely afford to maintain its existing police force. So in true Detroit fashion, citizens are supplementing the crime-fighting industry and director Jacob Hurwitz-Goodman has captured what that may look like.
During an internship at a local alternative newspaper, Hurwitz-Goodman unknowingly lived next door to DTM’s headquarters. As his curiosity piqued about the goings on next door, he used his credentials as a way in to check things out. Over time, he grew fascinated by their headquarters, equipment, training and mission. And when filmmakers grow fascinated, they make films.
The documentary begins with a local news reporter and her cameraman filming a story of a missing child and how DTM helped reunite the child with its mother. Although it moved slowly, the tone was light, poking fun at the media and their news approach without taking away from the importance and severity of the situation or DTM.
However, soon after that, things begin to unravel.
DTM’s guards, who are called VIPERS (civilian volunteers known as the Violence Intervention Protective Emergency Response System), try their best to look intimidating. They look militant in fatigues, combat boots and bullet-proof vests, are well organized, buff and patrol in a black armored H3.
Their mission is to defend their community against predators. There are a few ways in which they achieve this; one is through training services they offer to women, children, men, senior citizens and even police officers. Others are patrolling neighborhoods, responding to clients’ alarms or citizens that call in an emergency situation. Although they are a private security firm and are employed by wealthy Detroit residents and business owners, they also use that money to provide supplemental security to those who can’t afford it.
Through two years of filming, Hurwitz-Goodman inevitably got to know DTM’s characters on a personal level. Some of those moments were captured on film. But by including so many of those scenes in the film, Hurwitz-Goodman whether knowingly or not, appears to have humiliated his characters. By minute 28, the film began to resemble the squad of Reno 911.
Not to mention the director, whose voice is heard asking questions, pries into the team members’ personal lives in an inorganic manner. During an interview regarding the history of DTM, Hurwitz-Goodman begins to question founder Dale Brown’s love life. Not only does Brown appear to be uncomfortable but confused.
Since the meaning of the film is to examine what DTM does, who is involved and how it affects the community, it was an uncomfortable, tawdry approach. When Brown did open up, he expressed some coldness towards relationships. He seemed guarded (no pun intended) and unable to connect. If this film had been psychoanalysis of these crime defenders, this approach would have made sense. However, DTM’s most pivotal moments were overshadowed by the dysfunctional lives of the guards themselves.
However dysfunctional, the film did illustrate the benefits of having DTM in their community. The film depicted VIPERS guarding a victim of domestic violence, returning children to their lawful parent, intervening when police refused, and instilling confidence and skills into a group of children taking a self-defense class.
Unfortunately, those moments were spliced in between scenes where the guards are seen “training,” which could easily be mistaken as mocking the groups’ abilities.
Then, there is the ceaseless number of scenes where the camera sits in the car with our guards while doing nothing, instead of depicting guards’ highly trained maneuvers and responses to crime, as the film seems to promise. The film also revealed that VIPERS are never armed, even though they have a difficult time admitting it.
While the film’s run time is only 87 minutes, the lingering scenes make time creep by all too slowly.
I question, why, if Hurwitz-Goodman intended to make a film about a crime fighting organization, he didn't capture the excitement and drama through action? The only way Hurwitz-Goodman added drama was by his “love” questions.
In all fairness, this was Hurwitz-Goodman’s first feature length film, not to mention a feature length documentary and he edited the film himself. These are all huge endeavors. Cutting out footage is one of the most difficult things for a director to do and even though he had the help of his filmmaking community at the 2012 Focus Night Series, it still isn’t the same as having an editor, with your film’s best interest at heart.