×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Empz 4 Life

Vet Canadian documaker Allan King explores the racism, hope and despair swirling around four Toronto teenagers and the volunteer trying to guide them in the thorough and powerful cinema verite exercise "EMPz 4 Life." A marked departure from the ageism issues in his previous two films, "Dying at Grace" and "Memory for Max, Claire, Ida and Company," this pic finds 76-year-old King continuing at the top of his game, and will be in demand by fests and cablers.

Vet Canadian documaker Allan King explores the racism, hope and despair swirling around four Toronto teenagers and the volunteer trying to guide them in the thorough and powerful cinema verite exercise “EMPz 4 Life.” A marked departure from the ageism issues in his previous two films, “Dying at Grace” and “Memory for Max, Claire, Ida and Company,” this pic finds 76-year-old King continuing at the top of his game, and will be in demand by fests and cablers.

With the stated aim of creating a film allowing auds to experience racism, King and his small crew follow the ups and downs of four 13-year-olds trying to navigate adolescence in a high-risk community. Christopher Ellis, aka C-Jewlz, aspires to be a rapper but struggles in school; Jivon Walker flirts with thug life and is shot at in the doorway of his house before discovering a talent for numbers; Jordan Mendez is also drawn to gangs and already has three older brothers in prison; Sadiki Clarke is a quiet boy who, along with Jivon, excels at math.

The four are mentored by fulltime volunteer Brian Henry, a Guyanan-born Canadian who’s done time himself but now focuses on placing youths in proper schools. It’s a long, frustrating task, made moreso by the insensitive complexity of the system and constant presence of police. Henry turns to playwright-mathematician John Mighton, who motivates the kids via his Junior Undiscovered Math Prodigies program. But it may not be enough: As Chris raps, “I’m in a struggle, lost in a bubble, lost in the hustle…”

As has come to be expected from a career in non-fiction film dating back to 1956, King brings a meticulous patience to the project and thus is present for the big setbacks and small victories that play out as a microcosm of the community’s overall frustrations. Guiding him through the new world of the street is Trinidadian-born Canadian playwright Joseph Jomo Pierre, who appears oncamera and receives a consulting director credit.

Tech credits hew faithfully to the fly-on-the-wall cinema verite form, with d.p. Mark Ellam taking over ably from recently deceased Peter Walker, who shot King’s previous two films. Empz is short for Empringham, a district of the Malvern community in Toronto where the pic was lensed.

Empz 4 Life

Canada

Production: An Allan King Films release (in Canada) of an Allan King Films, TVOntario presentation of an Allan King Films production. (International sales: Allan King Films, Toronto.) Produced by King. Executive producer, Kathy Avrich-Johnson. Directed by Allan King.

Crew: Camera (color, DigiBeta), Mark Ellam; editor, Nick Hector; music, C-Jewlz (Christopher Ellis), Kosh, Nicholas Porter, Majesty; sound, Jason Milligan, Michael Bonini; associate producers, Theresa Ho, Porter. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Masters), Sept. 14, 2006. Running time: 113 MIN.

More Film

  • Bradley Cooper speaks at the 30th

    Producers Guild Shifts 2020 Awards Show to Hollywood Palladium

    The Producers Guild of America will hold its 31st Annual Producers Guild Awards at the Hollywood Palladium, shifting the site from the Beverly Hilton Hotel. The PGA had already announced that the show would take place on Jan. 18. The organization, which represents more than 8,000 producers, announced Thursday that it has launched a new [...]

  • Adam Driver appears in The Report

    Amazon’s ‘The Report’ Gets U.K. Theatrical Release Ahead of Streaming Launch

    Amazon Studio’s “The Report” will be released theatrically in the U.K. three weeks before it lands on the Prime Video streaming service. The Scott Z. Burns film tells the story of Daniel J. Jones, a U.S. Senate staffer who worked to reveal that truth about an “enhanced interrogation” program run by the CIA in the [...]

  • Elton John performing at Earls Court,

    Elton John Has a Message for Struggling LGBTQ Youth: 'Be Proud of Who You Are'

    Elton John isn’t at a loss for words when asked if he has a message for young LGBTQ people who are struggling with their sexuality or gender identity. In an exclusive interview with Variety at last month’s Cannes Film Festival, just hours before the world premiere of his long-in-the-works biopic “Rocketman,” John spoke candidly about the [...]

  • Salma Hayek Owen Wilson Bliss

    Salma Hayek, Owen Wilson to Star in Amazon's Sci-Fi Drama 'Bliss'

    Salma Hayek and Owen Wilson have signed on to star in Amazon’s science-fiction drama “Bliss,” with Mike Cahill directing from his own script. Wilson portrays a recently divorced man whose life is falling apart when he meets Hayek’s character, a woman who lives on the streets and is convinced that the polluted, broken world around [...]

  • Donald Glover Beyonce

    Beyoncé and Donald Glover Harmonize in 'Can You Feel the Love Tonight' Ad Preview

    Anyone who’s longed to hear Beyoncé and Donald Glover harmonizing got just enough to further whet the appetite in a first snippet of their version of “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” that’s included in a new commercial for Disney’s upcoming “Lion King” remake. The TV spot lasts just 30 seconds, hardly time at all [...]

  • Pride Allies

    The Hollywood Allies Who Helped Protect, Advance the LGBTQ Community This Year

    Strong and proud as it is, the LGBTQ community’s fight for equality needs allies — from loving and accepting families to galvanized colleagues and corporations to the movie star you’ve never met calling for boycotts of a homophobic nation-state. Several of those queer supporters in Hollywood and music used the megaphones of social media, public [...]

  • 'Easy A' Spinoff in the Works

    'Easy A' Spinoff in the Works From Original Screenwriter (EXCLUSIVE)

    Nearly a decade after the success of “Easy A,” a spinoff of the coming-of-age comedy is in the works. Sources tell Variety that Screen Gems has appointed Bert Royal, who penned the first script, to write and direct the upcoming movie. Insiders stress that the film is still in early development, as Royal is still [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content