When swirling with violence, insurmountable challenges, and an entire country’s contradictory culture, how can a single person have a positive impact? Well, that’s the very subject of Gabe Dinsmoor’s documentary short SAGE, which spotlights the efforts, emotions, and innovations of Erricka Bridgeford, founder, and co-organizer of Baltimore City’s quarterly 72-hour Ceasefire weekends. The Ceasefires draw thousands of residents each weekend to special community events and activities all promoting life and non-violence, with a city-wide pledge that “nobody kill anybody.” While some Ceasefires are more effective than others, we traipse the day-to-day efforts of Bridgeford and her fellow organizers, as well as their personal tragedies, and desires for their neighborhoods.
Dinsmoor claimed at his film’s Maryland Film Festival premiere that he had shot over a hundred hours of footage, which was then whittled down to a twenty-minute documentary. This is definitely felt throughout the story, as the amount of material present is substantially powerful, and not a single shot ever repeats or is mirrored – every step of the journey, regardless how familiar or alien, is newly experienced by the audience, which makes the pain and progress documented all the more potent. Not only does the film showcase the intense pain and loss experienced by so many families and neighborhoods throughout Baltimore, but also the desire for each person to bond together and remember the “self-esteem of their city,” celebrating what draws them together. While talks at vigils and on radio shows contextualize the extent at which this violent crisis affects the city, it also details the efforts of ordinary and extraordinary people in combating not only the actual gun violence but the national depiction of Baltimore in the media as an inherently unsafe city.
“…spotlights the efforts, emotions, and innovations of Erricka Bridgeford, founder, and co-organizer of Baltimore City’s quarterly 72-hour Ceasefire weekends.”
Through solemn moments of tearful introspection, or rapid-fire (yet exquisitely edited) montages splashing contrasting viewpoints across this conversation, the story painted here is equally sad and empowering. I was nearly brought to tears multiple times, which is quite hard to do for someone so desensitized and cynical as I am, so I have to tip my hat to the filmmakers’ raw intensity in their documentation. Though, to be fair, as a Baltimore native, and someone who worked for local television during the city’s first Ceasefire, this hit far closer to home than it would have if it took place in any other city, or with any other activist (I have actually met Bridgeford on two occasions, though I was largely obscured by a camera).
Though homicides continue to be a constant crisis for Baltimore, SAGE clearly states that the city is very much still alive under this deathly cloud, and will most likely push their way past it – no matter how long it takes.
SAGE (2019) Directed by Gabe Dinsmoor. Starring Erricka Bridgeford.
10 out of 10