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Hot Docs 2021: “A Once and Future Peace”


Rating: 5 out of 5.

Before we send juvenile offenders to jail, we must understand their core problem, realize their background, the circumstances they live in and what lifestyle they have lived that led them to commit the crime they did. Digging deep into a matter would help resolve insecurity, lack of education and bring the community back together that would participate in improving quality of life, especially for those who felt left behind.

“A Once and Future Peace” is an eye-opening documentary I personally did not expect to want to see. On so many levels, it’s grounded, educational and provides an insight into our own mind. It opens up the hidden wounds that were still bleeding. Whether it applies to me or anyone else, it’s a crucial piece of filmmaking that cleverly touches upon a subject matter such as the judicial system and what it can do in order to prevent the same offender from being sent to prison twice for the same crime.

From director Eric Daniel Metzgar, “A Once and Future Peace” centers around an alternative approach in creating a better justice system for the youth. With the ground-breaking work in Peacemaking Circles by  Saroeum Phoung, who, after escaping the brutal Pol Pot regime, was thrown in the center of East Boston’s gangs, until he got the opportunity of a lifetime to reinvent, rediscover and make himself a better person. With that, he has transitioned himself from being a gangster to someone who helps the younger generation to overcome obstacles and be better people. 

The film opens up the struggle of First Nation in Canada and how Judge Barry Stuart, who would send children to the juvenile facility, realized that something else must be done as the system can’t correct offenders’ behavior. With the help of Harold Gatensby (Dahka T’lingit), they reimplement the longstanding T’lingit tradition of peace circles which are practised by many indigenous nations as a restorative measure.

There is a lot to take from Metzgar’s film. Partially animated, as one of the participants of the Peacemaking circle, Andy, refused to appear in front of the camera, it creates a surreal atmosphere with so much depth, empathy and care. We sympathize with Andy. We know he is halfway through the turning point. He should and must do good for his own sake. However, as the story progresses, we realize not everyone will be able to pull himself out of trouble. For that requires a huge amount of courage, as Saroeum Phoung says at some point, to look for the person inside yourself you have been running from.

But whatever happens over the course of the documentary, you won’t help but grow optimistic. Because if organizations such as the Peacemaking circle exist, and will exist, it will help so many people. But as it was pointed out correctly in the film, it’s not a one-person duty. It’s the responsibility of each individual to contribute one way or another. Team effort should be at its best. Otherwise, the success we may gain from it will be temporary, which can result in a disastrous outcome for someone who had hope to regain life in a better way.

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