Tribal Justice Movie Review
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Summer may be synonymous with $300 million dollar budget box office hits consistently smashing their own records, but just like leaving a busy city in favor of camping with the bare amenities, there’s something truly powerful about films with little to no budget. Films which often rely heavily on the acting performances. Indie films manage to give a sense of … intrinsic realism. This is a feeling that big studio-backed films, even those trying to emulate an indie flick feel, can’t usually accomplish sincerely.
Cinetopia, based in Ann Arbor, Dearborn, and Detroit, celebrates these films in a region that (like indie films) is often overlooked. I can honestly say that this film festival is guaranteed two things from this movie goer; lots of tears and a sense that the world is so much more rich with detail than I, or anyone, could ever imagine. This festival almost acts as an alternative schooling for me. It’s cathartic – I get angry, I cry, I laugh, I feel so much more while watching films that I may not have thought to watch on my own. Congrats to the wonderful Cinetopia team for another fantastic year, curating a list of diverse, and inclusive, and extremely educational films, yet again.
In the last 17 years or so, poll after poll will tell you that the percentage of U.S. citizens who believe our justice system to be fair has dramatically decreased. Everything from sexual assault sentencing to systemic racism and drug charges (i.e. the war on drugs) have many saying that something has got to give.
With 1/5 people locked up for a drug offenses, many wonder how we stop the cycle of addiction and selling? Many are now wondering if a system based off of TRIBAL JUSTICE could be adapted to an entire country of our size. According to the Department of Justice website, the officers of Tribal Justice will “ will coordinate a series of listening sessions with tribal law enforcement officials and tribal leaders to ensure the unique perspective of law enforcement in Indian Country is taken into account.”
Meaning they will allow these tribes as sovereign nations within the United States, to take care of their own people instead of having them get lost in the U.S. legal system and all of its complexities.
Jargon aside, this documentary does a truly fantastic job of explaining how all of this works and why it’s so important for them to “reach back to traditional concepts of justice in order to reduce incarceration rates, foster greater safety for their communities and create a more positive future for youth. By addressing the root causes of crime, they are modeling restorative systems that are working. Mainstream courts across the country begin to take notice.”
We follow several people as they interact with the tribal system. A young man who was put in foster care most of his life is having a hard time attending high school without falling back on illegal substances and alcohol We follow his aunt, one of the two judges in this documentary, as she figures out how to get custody. We are there as a father tries to get off of drugs, so as to take care of his son. We watch as a mom fights for her autistic son to be let out of a juvenile correctional facility.
Neither judge backs down as they champion for their people and so badly want to see them succeed. It’s heartbreaking when some fall back in to that cycle but it will make the viewer realize how systemic this truly is. Never will our own justice system see a judge firmly state what the defendant is to do for community service and rehabilitation in one breath, and then invite the same person to a barbecue the next week. It may sound unprofessional but it comes off like a stern aunt who wants nothing but the best for you. Our legal system may not ever know this kind of Tribal Justice, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t.