Heartland Film Festival: “Romeo Is Bleeding”

By Bob Bloom

The adage that the pen is mightier than the sword is put to the test in the documentary film, “Romeo Is Bleeding.”

The feature follows a group of young people in Richmond, Calif., where a long-standing feud has claimed several lives in the past couple of decades, as the neighborhoods of North and Central Richmond cannot seem to overcome decades of bad blood.

Donté Clark, a young man who has seen his share of friends and neighbors killed, undergoes a life-altering transformation when a caring teacher, Molly Raynor, takes an interest in him.

Under Raynor’s guidance, Clark begins writing poetry about his experiences, which gains him recognition in the city and the state.

He also helps found a center where other talented young people can have a safe haven to express themselves.

Together, the group decides to stage their own adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” rewriting the Bard’s iambic pentameter into their own street language and changing the locale and characters from Italy’s Verona to the streets of Richmond.

Director Jason Zeldes mixes the progress of adapting the work with background about the city’s dangerous environments, the frustration of not only law-enforcement officials, but of residents who want to stop the seemingly endless cycle of killings.

Clark is portrayed as an inspirational individual who, because he lives in North Richmond, faces daily danger by venturing into Central Richmond, which houses the arts center where the young people gather.

Clark and others poignantly tell Zeldes of those they have lost to violence and the senselessness of the fatalities — many of whom were random, a matter of someone being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

At times, the movie’s pace drags, as Zeldes seems to dwell a bit too long on some subjects during several interviews.

Despite the grim and apparent hopelessness of the situation in Richmond, Zeldes paints an uplifting picture of people determined to take control, not only of their lives, but also of the situation around them.

These determined teenagers and young adults see the work they are creating as a message they can genuinely deliver to their peers in an attempt to convince them of the futility and waste that holds the city in a vise of moral and mental despair.

“Romeo Is Bleeding” is an emotionally raw feature that is uncompromising in its honesty. Tears of sadness mix with tears of joy as the members of the arts-center troupe triumph in conveying their message as widely as they had hoped.

Bloom is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. His reviews appear at ReelBob (reelbob.com) and The Film Yap (filmyap.com). He also reviews Blu-rays and DVDs. He can be reached by email at bobbloomjc@gmail.com or on Twitter @ReelBobBloom. Other reviews by Bloom can be found at Rottentomatoes: www.rottentomatoes.com.


3½ stars out of 4
Not rated: language, violence


For showtimes and ticket information about the Heartland Film Festival, visit: http://heartlandfilm.org/festival/

“Romeo Is Bleeding” will be shown at the following times and theaters during the Heartland Film Festival:
5:30 p.m. Saturday, Castleton Square
2:30 p.m. Sunday, Castleton Square
5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Traders Point
2 and 8:15 p.m. Thursday, Traders Point
8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 23, Wheeler Arts Community Theatre
10 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 24, Traders Point

  • ReelBob

    Planning on attending Heartland. Let us know what films you are looking forward to seeing.