The documentary follows a group of teens living in Washington D.C., who collaborate together to write, direct, and star in a musical. We watch as they form friendships and bond, and as they discuss issues such as racism, gangs, and AIDS. For some of us, these are nice, distant things to talk about, but for these kids they are just talking about their lives. This film shows the limited future which all of these people have been forced to face. There is one scene where a young black man explains about how he *knows* he will one day be shot. The only question involved is when.
One of the things which has happened since the Civil Rights movement is that although the societal structure has changed against discrimination and racism, it still exists in places we choose not to look. One of the things "City at Peace" does is force us to look there. We share in a white girl's shock as she recalls how her parents politely told her not to bring a black boy to the dance, and we reluctantly accept the scene where the group, after months on bonding, still cliques together according to race. We begin to understand how little things we think don't matter can be just as oppressive as the Jim Crow laws we set out to banish.
This film makes no tricks, takes no shortcuts. There are perhaps too many teary emotional scenes, but they all work because we feel that they are genuine. It makes its point so bluntly, simply showing what life is like for these teenagers, that it feels almost impossible to talk about it. At first, this film is a powerful blow to the belief that everyone in America has an equal opportunity. But it ends with the powerful affirmation that it is possible to escape your beginnings. It is a very powerful film.
Rating: **** out of four.