“CORY in Brick City” paints the inspired picture of Newark mayor Cory Booker, a man who understood the sacrifice necessary to build a better community for all following the 2008 financial crisis. The HIGHLY RECOMMENDED “CORY in Brick City” premieres at the DTLAFF on October 26 followed by its DOCNYC premiere on November 9.
I’d like to think that I live in a world where I can leave my home and walk on our streets without worrying that something won’t happen to me. That’s not the reality, but there is hope.
“CORY in Brick City,” the inspiring feature-length documentary opened my eyes far wider to the people who can promote change and the sacrifice it takes to build, or rebuild a community among the violence and political vitriol.
Executive produced by Forest Whitaker and Drew Katz and directed by Mark Benjamin and Marc Levin, “CORY in Brick City” had unprecedented access to Mayor Cory Booker, featuring footage from the Peabody Award – winning and twice Emmy – nominated, eleven hour Sundance Series, “Brick City.”
With that unprecedented access from 2008 – 2010, Benjamin and Levin build a narrative of a city on the brink of disaster during the global economic crisis after the 2008 crash; a city full of unrestrained violence, of political intrigue in the police ranks and a citizenry that did not trust the local government.
At the center of it all is a deeply impassioned Cory Booker, a man who throughout the documentary mills about Newark as if he were a celebrity of the highest order. Benjamin and Levin contrast that appearance with someone who, deep down knew that if the city was to survive the ongoing economic crisis and gang violence amid the escalating tensions with the public, he was going to have to make some very hard decisions.
All throughout “CORY in Brick City,” the narrative paints a picture of someone who is exceptionally upbeat, with a strong sense of right and wrong, someone who is all-too-well aware of the city’s history referencing the 1967 Newark Rebellion and the blame that the public laid on the mayor then. Benjamin and Levin feature footage from that event as a means to drive Booker’s push to fix the modern challenges that plagued the city, but also as a way to put us in the minds of the citizens Booker is meant to protect – “people were saying things were my fault,” mentions an incredulous Booker.
Supporting him is the Police Director, Garry McCarthy, a Bronx-born peace officer. Benjamin and Levin feature McCarthy as the pipeline between the police efforts to address the crime and the mayor. I was surprised to find a strong willed, yet down-to-earth man in McCarthy as he used his murder rate statistics to support Booker’s efforts. And, that’s because McCarthy’s background as the NYC top cop on the “other side of the river” was to some degree similar to the violence plaguing Newark at the time.
Just as with Booker, McCarthy had an honesty about him that made him approachable. “CORY in Brick City” uses this to gain empathy for both sides of the plight. They also correctly point out that the dissention in the gangs, fighting over turf, drugs and money needed to be mended, a focal point in Booker’s efforts.
Whether he was speaking at a seminar on Violence Awareness in which a gang member shares her experiences, her regrets and her own desire to change, all lineup with Booker’s efforts to promote change as a whole.
The nervousness of all involved was palpable as Booker navigates threats to his life, dealings with then-Governor Christie, efforts to meet the people on their own terms, Booker truly represented a man of the people, even if they still blamed him for the lack of jobs.
There is a modesty about Booker, as he talks about his family history and the formation of his morals and values. He always manages a smile, and we never see him sweat; there’s a confidence about him when he talks about the legacy his parents left for the children of today as he expresses disappointment that the efforts of his father’s generation could not predict the difficulties of raising kids in the modern world. Benjamin and Levin paint this as a rallying point as Booker gets tough with McCarthy.
What surprised me was just how much support Booker got from radio personality David Cruz, reminding Booker that the media were looking for blood because that’s what sells the news; that he needed to avoid those landmines.
Of course, these interludes give us a break from all the tension and focus on the mayor, Cory. The lightheartedness helps to soften Booker’s image even further when his mom, Carolyn as a radio call-in guest gives a nice tug on her son to find “that perfect young lady.”
“CORY in Brick City” balances the woes of violence with the ongoing budget battle, something that had been ballooning long before Cory got into office. Even through the most difficult of decisions, Cory maintained an even keel, relying on his people to find the best possible way forward, moving through a reelection campaign and a battle over how McCarthy’s role fit into Booker’s administration.
“This is Newark. A city of light. We not only embody the spirit of America, but the very hope of the country.” It is clear that Cory Booker is an impassioned politician, a man with a generous, yet dominating spirit who won’t let go of something when the difficulty level hits a “10.” His efforts to balance a budget, to be fiscally responsible for future generations is a remarkable feat unto itself. There is no ego about it either.
“CORY in Brick City” paints the picture of a man whose verisimilitude could not allow his ego to get in the way; a man who has the best interests of the people and who, with a lot of sweat equity and sacrifice, can get the job done.
“CORY in Brick City”
Directed by: Mark Benjamin and Marc Levin
Executive Producers: Forest Whitaker, Drew Katz, Mark Benjamin, Marc Levin
Featuring: Cory Booker, Garry McCarthy, David Cruz, Michelle Thomas, Pablo Fonseca, Anthony Campos
NR, 95 minutes, A Brick City TV LLC Production