Beth Kruvant's compelling and ironically titled (eventually much more than that) documentary HEART OF STONE belongs to the principal of a New Jersey high school, and it's anything but a hard heart. Mr. Stone is a strong man and firm, yet his metaphoric heart, at least, is remarkably full and giving.
Stone is in charge of Weequahic High School (pronouced week-wack) in the Newark area, a school that once-upon-a-time was the number one high school in the USA. It had since gone to seed -- until Stone took charge. Though the walk down memory lane that Kruvant provides shows that, even in its glory days, there were gangs that preyed upon Blacks and Jews. Kruvant (shown below) takes us back to those former days when cooperation between Blacks and Jews was something expected, almost a given.
We meet the current alumni association, made up of graduates from those good times, who have banded together to help turn around the school, now plagued by violence and gang warefare (as is the surrounding neighborhood). We also meet some of the students and learn as much as possible (from the 80-odd-minutes of running time) about their lives.
The Los Angeles-imported gangs -- the Crips and Bloods -- have gained a foothold here, and so the big question is how to shut down or at least slow down gang violence once it is entrenched in the culture. You don't, it seems. But can you at least help some of the kids to rise about it? Hearing students struggle with the idea of how to work around the Bloods and Crips -- the girls approach this from one direction, the boys from another -- is fascinating but depressing, and yet the conflict/resolutions sessions devised by Principal Stone do seem to help. As do the Alumni-provided scholarships and rather amazing "field trips" that show students how a very different life exists outside of Newark: culture, skiing, even a trip to Paris (France not Texas).
After a short theatrical opening last year (to good reviews), the movie seemed to disappear, although screenings of it continue in various venues. The good news now is that Heart of Stone will make its On-Demand debut this month-- probably within a day or two, if it has not already. And the film will also be available via iTunes. Check your local TV reception provider for details, or click here and go exploring.
The film has also given birth to something called Campaign Kinship -- an outreach to high schools, universities and Jewish and Black organizations nationwide. For more information on Campaign Kinship, click here.
We had only a short time to spend on a Q&A with the filmmaker. TrustMovies' questions are in bold below, with Ms Kruvant's answer in standard typeface:
I found your documentary most interesting and finally quite moving -- for reasons that will become obvious once readers have seen the film. One thing that did startle me a bit: I come from the west coast where the Crips and Bloods have been around for decades. But I was surprised to see them with such a foothold here in New Jersey. Were they “imported,” and if so, by whom? Aren’t New Jersey kids inventive enough to form their own gangs?
Crips & Bloods were imported from LA, that’s all I know.
Do you have a sense that this gang thing is growing, declining, stable – or what?
I don’t have a sense of whether the gangs are growing or declining. I suspect there is similar growth in all cities since gangs are now a national phenomenon.
It was also nice to see the Black/Jewish connection being a positive thing again (something I recall being true as I was growing up and into my adulthood – before splitting apart in the… 60s, I think). Do you see this as a trend? Or is it just with this particular high school and its alumni?
I see an opening up in the Jewish community to the African American community, especially in the younger generation. This is a basic surge of community service and “tikkun olam” repairing the world.
What do you see happening at Weequahic High School in the future? Will its anti-gang program keep up and running? Are the alumni still as active?
At Weequahic High School, the anti-gang program is still up and running. The alumni have been empowered by the film. The High School is not as tightly run now; however the staff is still upholding Stone’s legacy as best they can.
What’s your next project?
I don’t know.
And finally, a question I always ask: Is there any subject you would like to talk about that journalists have not given you the chance to yet? (Think of this as your chance to soapbox, or whatever.)
Heart of Stone has taken on a new life in Campaign Kinship, an outreach campaign to high schools, universities and Jewish and Black organizations nationwide. This campaign has already borne fruit: one inner-city student who attended a screening in December said he had been inspired by Principal Stone- who reminded him of his grandfather-to get his diploma. These are kids that would not have the opportunity to see the movie in theaters, you have to bring it to them to make a difference in their lives. That’s the importance of the outreach. That’s the basis of this whole campaign.
Thanks, Beth -- and thanks for the film!