For Ahkeem (Levine & Van Soest, 2017): USA

Viewed by Larry Gleeson during Berlin Film Festival.

Jeremy S. Levine and Landon Van Soest, co-founders of the Transient Pictures production company and the Brooklyn Filmmakers Collective, presented For Ahkeem, a new documentary, at the 67th Berlin International Film Festival in Forum. For Ahkeem attempts to address and capture a young, African-American woman’s life pathway from footage accumulated over the course of approximately two years in St. Louis, Missouri, a short distance from Ferguson, Missouri, the site of the shooting death of Michael Brown. In doing so, Levine and Von Soest limit a wider lens encompassing root causes of the worst high school graduation rates of any state in the country.

Nevertheless, For Ahkeem tracks a roughly, seventeen year-old African-LevineAmerican female, Daje, from the north side of St. Louis, Missouri, an area of the city notorious for its gun violence and innocent killings from drive-by shootings. The film is predominantly direct cinema.

Daje comes across as a rather representative, angry, militant teenager of the area. She’s been expelled from school for the final time for fighting and has to make an appearance in juvenile court. The judge has read Daje’s not-so-promising juvenile record and decides to give her a refuge of last resort – an alternative school he started for troubled youth. It’s an offer Daje can’t refuse despite her best efforts.

It’s here Daje transforms from adolescent girl to young woman. She still exhibits angry outbursts dumping her household’s trash can out onto the street when she doesn’t get her way. With help from the staff and support from family and friends, Daje blossoms into a confident, independent young woman. As her graduation nears, Daje struggles with math, yet manages to overcome her obstacle and proudly receives her diploma. She’s persevered while experiencing pregnancy and birthing a child fathered by another alternative schoolmate she felt was nice to her and to whom she could talk with and confide in.

For Ahkeem is a slice-of-life piece that capitalizes on the national Black Live Matter movement without, in my opinion, exploiting it. Levine and Van Soest’s work is formidable. Not only does it showcase the plight of young, high school age African-Americans in North St. Louis, but it also showcases the affects the filmmaking process has on Daje. Fiercely proud and undoubtedly aware of the camera’s presence, Deja is on stage and she knows it. She rises to a new level with the new found attention and shines as actor/performer in a most naturalistic setting.

Seemingly, Levine and Van Soest’s focus successfully captures the trajectory of young African-Americans in the North St. Louis ghetto. Footage from Michael Brown’s mother shouting into a camera shows the passion this cultural segment possesses. As Michael Brown graduated high school so did Daje. The tragic life of Michael Brown need not be repeated in Daje’s son Ahkeem. Currently, efforts from community leaders allow troubled youths a way out. But, it’s not a one stop cure all.

For Ahkeem brings a singular perspective. Quite unusual for a documentary, the film reveals a powerful message of what a little attention can do for someone who has seemingly either been neglected or is in danger of falling through societal fissures. More than an expose, For Ahkeem is a life-affirming, heart-warming story of a community coming together to foster one of their own. Highly recommended.

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