Narrator: Pat Lentz. Juvenile crime is on the increase, despite heroic struggles to stem the tide. That is hardly news to today’s video-watching or moviegoing public, but there is a tingle and a grit in KCET’s “Newman’s the Man” that commands a high position among recent film treatments.
The hourlong special fits into a six-hour series of documentaries and discussions on youth violence aired on KCET during the week and repeated as a single package on Sunday.
Former military man David Newman, raised on the mean streets of Watts and Compton, is now a parole officer and gang information coordinator at the Fred C. Nelles School for Boys in Whittier, a California Youth Authority detention facility for serious offenders.
Most of its present inmates, age 13 to 21, are gang members, and several have a murder or two on their records.
Documentarian Nancy Salter focuses her cameras on Newman at work, including some remarkable interactions with some of his more difficult charges.
Most remarkable in Newman’s methods is the complete lack of jargon and psychobabble.
A kid tries to pin blame on his family background to explain his own gangbanging activities; Newman will have none of that.
His own command of blunt street-talk bullies some of his charges into defining and verbalizing their own problems and recognizing that blame for their actions lies within themselves.
The slender, unimposing Newman is hardly a miracle worker; the PBS docu on his actions chronicles his failures as well as his triumphs.
One gets the feeling that his most potent tool is his power to inspire loyalty.
Capping the show, 19-year-old Tyrone remembers the old days when “a day without doin’ a crime was, like, a boring day.” Now he voices his hopes for a crime-free future as a way to fulfill his debt to Newman’s guidance; he makes one want to believe.