Heartland Film Festival 2015: Movie Review – Romeo is Bleeding (2015)

romeo is bleeding

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  • Documentary Feature / Festival Award Winner / USA
  • Director: Jason Zeldes
  • Featured Subjects: Donté Clark, D’neise Robinson, Molly Raynor, Deandre Evans

This review is part of my coverage of 2015’s Heartland Film Festival in Indianapolis. Click here for more of my coverage of the festival. You can find my coverage of other Indianapolis area film and TV events here.

In Richmond, California there’s a feud raging in the streets. Central Richmond and unincorporated North Richmond have been at war for so long that no one is sure exactly when or why the violence started. It’s in this world that we’re introduced to Donté Clark, a poet from Richmond who uses his passion to bring people together against the violence in his community.

Romeo is Bleeding follows Donté’s journey to adapt “Romeo and Juliet” into a contemporary play about the senseless violence plaguing his city. Throughout the documentary we learn about the fragmented history of the feud and the different perspectives on what started it from residents, representatives, and law enforcement.

The film utilizes an abundance of beautiful overhead shots of the city that give Romeo is Bleeding a sleek cinematic style.  The opening sequence with wide shots of the city over fragments of narration about the violence in the city accompanied by an ominous and slow building score it highly effective at engrossing the viewer into the documentary’s narrative.

The film doesn’t inundate the viewer with statistics about gun violence nor does it take an anti-gun stance. Instead, it’s approach to addressing the violence in Richmond is to highlight the sheer senselessness of it. The documentary achieves this in scenes where we see the raw passion of the performers when they’re on stage. Even though I’ve never really “understood” beat poetry, I could feel the intensity and emotion every time someone performed in Romeo is Bleeding.

When it comes to the way the filmmakers deal with the violence, there’s a sobering method in which the filmmakers show how Donté has lost people close to him. It comes unexpectedly and reinforces how dangerous it is to live in Richmond.

The documentary loses some focus when it inserts information about the Chevron refinery in Richmond. The information is important and gives even more context to the hard lives of the subjects of the film, but it disrupts the narrative and feels slightly haphazard. It’s valuable information and should be in the film, but simply isn’t handled as well as the interpersonal aspects of the documentary’s key figures.

Romeo is Bleeding guides viewers through the hostile environment of Richmond, California through the eyes of young performers. The subjects are determined to not only voice their pain but to highlight how meaningless the killing is. It’s shot in a highly effective, cinematic style and follows people with charisma and charm in the lead up to opening night of Te’s Harmony. Romeo is Bleeding is a documentary that will leave you with a lot to think about.

Obsessive Grade – 7.5/10

Romeo is Bleeding Heartland 2015 Screenings:

  • Wednesday, Oct. 21st – 5:30pmTraders Point
  • Thursday, Oct. 22nd – 2pmTraders Point
  • Friday, Oct. 23rd – 8pmWheeler Arts (Donté Clark scheduled to attend)
  • Saturday, Oct. 24th – 10amTraders Point (Donté Clark scheduled to attend)

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