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A Once and Future Peace – Hot Docs 2021

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The indigenous custom of peace-circles are used to helped troubled youth in . The concept of people sitting around and talking in circles has been around in every civilization. Harold Gatensby (Dahka T'lingit) and Judge Barry Stuart decided to adopt the longstanding T'lingit tradition of peace circles into the juvenile court. This process is adapted by reformed gang member and social worker Saroeum Phoung, who uses peace-circles to help out a 17-year-old Mexican-American inmate named Andy.

A Once and Future Peace is a documentary by Eric Daniel Metzgar, which combines animated recreations of the primary case study, done to protect the identity of Andy and the other juvenile inmates featured in the film, with live-action talking head interviews. The live-action segments primarily tell the backstory of social worker Saroeum Phoung, a Cambodian refugee who became involved with gang activity in his youth and eventually came to work with Molly Baldwin at ROCA to help at-risk youth.

A Once and Future Peace is a film that provides an example of restorative justice practices, in the form of the peace-circle program, attempting to reform troubled youth through talking. While this is definitely an interesting concept, the film's repeated switching between animation and live-action does come across as disjointed. Using the animation to hide the identifies of juvenile inmates might have been the ethically right thing to do, it was hard to truly empathize with Andy's story when there wasn't a face to associate with the voice.

A Once and Future Peace is now streaming as part of the 2020 Hot Docs Film Festival


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Sean Patrick Kelly
Sean Patrick Kelly
Sean Patrick Kelly is a freelance film critic and blogger based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
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