New York — Sonja Sohn has gone from being in front of the camera to behind it. The actress, who played a Baltimore detective on The Wire, has become a documentary filmmaker and her debut offering is a powerful look at her beloved adopted city.
Baltimore Rising, examines a fearful community in the wake of riots after the death of Freddie Gray, who was fatally injured while in police custody in 2015. Sohn and her team accumulated some 600 hours of footage over a year to make the 90-minute film.
Sohn leveraged the good will she created from The Wire as well as her own help in the community to gain amazing access to both police and social activists. Her cameras capture intimate moments around dinner tables, on football fields and electric moments before important decisions. The Associated Press asked her about her approach and what lessons there are from Baltimore.
Was it hard putting aside your personal beliefs to carefully listen to all sides?
Certainly I had opinions about the case, about the way it was handled, about police, law enforcement, even about the activists — the younger ones, the older ones, the conversations that were going on in the street. I had plenty of opinions. But, of course, the one thing that you know you have to at least strive for is too keep all those opinions contained in this little space and try to be as neutral as possible.
The film has no bad guys, just people out there trying to keep the city from violence.
No matter what you can say about our cast, somewhere inside every single cast member, they care about the city. You might not agree with their stances, their perspectives and how they show that care and that love, but they all care. And I think it's important, for one second, just remember that so that when we are in conflict, we can communicate with one another in a respectful manner. I think that's important in today's world.
The legal cases against the Freddie Gray officers might have led to violence. Why didn't it?
I knew what a juggernaut that incident was and the force and the energy that was released through the incident that then propelled everyone's work even further. It was like putting a rocket booster on folks' motivation. The city was activated. I could feel it. Most people were of one accord, which is, 'No matter what happens with these cases, we're not going to destroy our city.'
Are there lessons here for other cities, for Americans?
When it comes to lessons, I just feel like people want to package things sometimes. And maybe it's about just moving the needle. I love the 'rah-rah!' I love the idea of everybody getting excited about 'staying woke' and 'being woke.' But are you working? Because we can talk all day long. But the reality of it is that the change you want to see may not happen in your lifetime. Are you still willing to work for that change?
Can changes in police training have anything to do with a solution?
The government sees the police department as an extension of the military. We see the police department as an extension of the community. Therein lies the rub, the conflict, the problem right there. I think if we all get on the same page — and yes, we can have the rule of law — but all understand that the police are an extension of the community. They serve at the behest of the community. And, by the way, so does the military.