A powerful story of order and disorder pulls you directly into the heart of ‘Baltimore Rising’ on HBO

Actress Sonja Sohn, who played Det. Kima Greggs on “The Wire,” has made a beautiful documentary, “Baltimore Rising,” about the city the show was set in. It premiered Monday on HBO, also the network of “The Wire.”

Set mainly among officials, activists and officers in the months between the April 2015 death of Freddie Gray after injuries sustained in police custody, and the end of the prosecution of the involved officers some 15 months later, it’s a documentary that’s more intimate than informational. The facts of the case are here, but Sohn seems more concerned with putting the viewer among people — in a room, on the street, on a football field — than with creating the definitive document, pointing fingers or retrying the case.

Because the filmmaker keeps herself out of the picture here, “Baltimore Rising” is not precisely “about” anything. Rather, it invites you to think about a host of things: order and disorder, passion and prudence, parents and children, systemic oppression and individual initiative.

The film has a point of view, certainly but it’s not in the least polemical. It wants to move things forward with the force of art.

Although race informs most everything here, the film itself does not split along the line. Apart from Police Commissioner Kevin Davis, Sohn’s subjects, on both sides of the proverbial thin blue line, are black, and there is much they disagree on, politically and personally.

All her people are out for a better Baltimore; most seem marvelous, in different ways. The Fraternal Order of Police, opposing civilian involvement in police oversight, is as much as a villain as “Baltimore Rising” cares to muster.

“Baltimore Rising” is a powerful film because it’s a human one. Sohn concentrates on faces, seen often in close-up. Director of photography Cliff Charles, who shot Spike Lee’s “When the Levees Broke” and Chris Rock’s “Good Hair,” makes everything seem very present; you can feel the weather, the space that extends beyond the image.

In its focus on human institutions, conversation and well-communicated sense of place,“Baltimore Rising” at times recalls the work of Frederick Wiseman (“In Jackson Heights”), but with a narrative thrust.

There is marching and chanting and the occupation of a City Hall balcony, but scenes around a dinner table or putting up Christmas decorations mean as much.

Will Makayla, caught up in protest, get her college applications together? Will Kwame grow up a little? Will anyone be found culpable in the death of Gray?
Will Baltimore burn again?

HAPPY BIRTHDAY
Singer-actress Miley Cyrus is 25 … TV personality Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi is 30 … Rapper Kurupt of Tha Dogg Pound is 45 … Comedy writer Bruce Vilanch is 70.

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

Dave Hodges, pastor at Zide Door, the Church of Entheogenic Plants that include marijuana and psilocybin mushrooms, holds some psychedelic mushrooms inside the Oakland church on Friday, July 22, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
Psychedelic spirituality: Inside a growing Bay Area religious movement

‘They are guiding us into something ineffable’

San Francisco Police stand guard outside the Mission Police Station during a protest over the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd on Saturday, May 30, 2020. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Fired: California bill aims to decertify police for serious misconduct

By Robert Lewis CalMatters On a Wednesday afternoon in April 2018, Gardena… Continue reading

The Giants and Dodgers face each other again following a May series the Dodgers swept; Dodgers shortstop Gavin Lux caught stealing by Giants second baseman Donovan Solano at Oracle Park on May 23 is pictured. 
Chris Victorio/
Special to The Examiner
Giants vs. Dodgers: What you need to know before this week’s huge series

By Chris Haft Special to The Examiner That grinding noise you’ll hear… Continue reading

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Monday that state employees and health care workers must be vaccinated or undergo weekly testing and wear masks. (Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters)
California orders vaccine or testing for health care workers, state employees

By Ana B. Ibarra CalMatters Amid an uptick in COVID-19 cases and… Continue reading

Jeremy Kahn and Monica Ho are excellent in San Francisco Playhouse’s production of Lauren Yee’s “The Song of Summer,” being presented live and online. (Courtesy Jessica Palopoli)
Touching relationship at heart of ‘Song of Summer’

Lighthearted SF Playhouse show ‘feels right for this moment’

Most Read