A Hurricane Katrina survivor works to keep Black teenagers in school in Oakland, California. But after his 15-year-old-son gets arrested for a crime he didn't commit, his personal and professional worlds collide in dramatic and profound ways.
The film Circles was featured in the 2019 Cinequest Film and Creativity Festival in San Jose and Redwood City, California. I had the opportunity to interview and moderate an audience Q&A session with Circles director Cassidy Friedman and star, Eric Butler.
In the film Circles, circles are the small groups of peers and stakeholders that are formed to find rational, calibrated responses to behavioral violations at an Oakland, CA High School. This alternate approach to constructively finding justice is deftly orchestrated by school counselor, Eric Butler. Watching Eric's ability to relate and communicate with troubled teens is captivating throughout. His natural oratory skill finds meaning and power when coupled with his genuine concern for students and deep empathy - based on his own life struggles.
The film does not offer an objective examination of multiple viewpoints on restorative justice public policy, but that was never the goal. It passionately takes a stand and delivers a message in both raw and nuanced ways as the story unfolds. The film feels gritty and visceral as it grants the audience unexpected access to the life struggles of high school students and their inspiring counselor.
Circles strikes me as an important film because it surfaces societal struggle and a challenging topic (restorative justice) at a personal level, within the lives of real people. It is a film worth watching because it thoughtfully tells the story in a way that keeps the audience immersed from start to finish.
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