Posted on Wednesday, February 5th, 2014 by Germain Lussier
“The Wire with wheelies” is how one outlet described Lotfy Nathan‘s documentary 12 O’Clock Boys. That’s pretty accurate. The film, shot over several years on the streets of Baltimore, follows the titular group, a band of young black men who ride up and down the streets on dirt bikes and four-wheelers. Members attain status by riding wheelies high and long. For the most part, the gang keeps youths off the street and focused on something positive.
Unlicensed motorcycles speeding down city streets isn’t considered to be the safest thing, however, and Baltimore Police have their hands full with the 12 O’Clock Boys. Nathan’s documentary shows how the group was created, and follows a young man named Pug who is desperately trying to join his hometown heroes.
The film is currently playing in several markets and is on all major on-demand outlets. Below, check out an exclusive clip from the film and read an interview with Nathan about his impressive, interesting documentary.
Here’s an exclusive clip from 12 O’Clock Boys:
And here’s an e-mail interview I did with Nathan about that clip, and the film in general:
/Film: What did you think when you saw that guy kick the cop car? Was that the most aggressive thing you saw a 12 O’Clock Boy do to the cops?
Lofty Nathan: There weren’t many direct acts of aggression against police. I think that’s asking for a lot of trouble no matter who you are. Kicking the cop car was probably the craziest thing I witnessed in that regard.
In the clip we also get a glimpse of Pug (above), the main character of the story. How did you find him and how did you decide to focus on him?
I met Pug in April 2010 while I was fishing around for material. Until then I had spent about 2 years getting a sort of survey of the bike scene as a whole. It was a gradual and natural process that brought Pug into being the protagonist of the movie.
How receptive to your camera were the 12 O’Clock Boys? Did it take any coercing?
No coercing was really necessary. The whole thing exists for attention largely, so it was more a matter of sticking around and being there. I was lucky to get in touch with Steven, who really took me in and showed me around. He vouched for me.
Though outsiders see the group as negative, it seemed to me like there’s definitely a positive spin in that it keeps young men occupied and not doing drugs. Is that how the community views it?
That’s how a community sees it. Not sure what community you mean. Some see it as a positive and some don’t.
When making the movie, were you aware of the inevitable comparisons to The Wire?
I became aware of those comparisons and then watched The Wire. It was a great series which storytellers in Baltimore today could effectively trust as a kind of foundation for a global audience now. So many people have an understanding of the layout of Baltimore.
What was your relationship to the police? Did they know what you were doing?
I appreciate that it is a very frustrating and difficult situation for the police. The fact is, the practice of riding the dirt bikes in the streets is dangerous. The police don’t necessarily have it easy in this case, either. I do think I caught a bit of slack occasionally because of my efforts to make an intimate portrait from the perspective of the riders, though ultimately I always felt that was meant to inform everyone a little more about why this group exists, for better or worse. They knew I was doing this before too long. I actually did an interview with the BPD public affairs and they helped me to obtain closed case files around dirt bike accidents.
The film has a bit of an open ended ending. Was that on purpose or was it just hard to figure out where Pug story would eventually take him?
The ending is open ended as Pug’s life is open ended. My editor, Thomas Niles, and I both embraced this in the ending of the film. We didn’t feel we were obligated to some kind of cutely tied up ending as exists in bigger budget films. As we were working under the radar we had the liberty to leave things unanswered and merely suggested.
12 O’Clock Boys will open in more markets this weekend. It’s also on demand. Get all the information at this link.