In an era with a paucity of real heroes, a genuine one emerges in "G-Dog": the inexhaustible Jesuit priest Greg Boyle, whose Homeboy Industries has saved countless lives in Los Angeles' gang-plagued neighborhoods.

With: Greg Boyle, Shayna Welcher, Hector Verdugo, Fabian Debora, Louis Perez, Kyle Shoaf, Brian Moon, Veronica Vargas, Kamala Harris. (English, Spanish dialogue)

In an era with a paucity of real heroes, a genuine one emerges in “G-Dog”: the inexhaustible Jesuit priest Greg Boyle, whose Homeboy Industries has saved countless lives in Los Angeles’ gang-plagued neighborhoods. Freida Mock’s documentaries have been only as good as their subjects (and sometimes, as with her portrait of playwright Tony Kushner, not even that), but here she has made a movie that vitally captures an extraordinary character in extraordinary circumstances. Boyle’s story will reach across a long roster of fests and easily garner distrib interest, with socially minded tube play assured.

Boyle is a familiar name to Angelenos and those who closely followed gang-war violence in the 1980s, when it reached a dangerous climax in such enclaves as the ironically named Boyle Heights, just east of downtown L.A. As pastor of Mission Dolores in this hood’s heart, Boyle personally intervened in countless turf disputes, and forged a sturdy gang peace agreement instrumental in a reduction in violence that has taken hold. Mock’s camera (with Erik Daarstad and Hiroki Miyano sharing vid-lensing credit) follows Boyle through a particularly tough period in the life of Homeboy Industries, as it risks financial ruin nearly two decades after its founding.

“Nothing stops a bullet like a job” is Homeboy’s ingenious, says-it-all slogan, and in its offices, located at downtown’s edge, Boyle is seen juggling a busy staff and interns, most of them former gangbangers. With a thriving cafe, bakery and other businesses employing individuals who would have been rejected by most other companies, Homeboy is perhaps the country’s most successful working model of the transformation of young criminals into productive citizens, with a retention rate that far outstrips the 30% of most similar programs.

Politicians have noticed: The camera spots former mayor Richard Riordan dining at the Homeboy cafe, and California Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris meeting with Boyle and touring the facility. In a memorable sequence, former first lady Barbara Bush invites Boyle and three Homeboy workers to Washington, D.C., for a White House dinner. Boyle’s political knack is remarkable, in that he has forged alliances with a wide array of figures across the political spectrum, from community activists to Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca.

But the jolly, rotund Boyle — a dead ringer for Santa Claus — reserves his best bonding for the kids he’s saved and is still trying to save, made most evident in the unabashed emotion they express when they encounter him. All this makes the layoff of 300 Homeboy staffers during the recession a shocking blow to everyone involved, raising the possibility that the businesses may even have to close.

They don’t, and in fact, continue to thrive as lensing wraps in 2011, testament to the solid foundation Boyle constructed. Much of the final third of “G-Dog” (Boyle’s affectionate street moniker) is an account of Homeboy in full-on fundraising mode, surely prompting a question in the minds of some viewers: Where are the so-called job-creating members of America’s 1% in helping to sustain an organization that’s amply proved its value and even genius?

Mock’s shrewd approach pays fine dividends: Get out of the way and let her figures do the talking, including not only Boyle but a roster of subjects like Homeboy staffer Hector Verdugo and artist Fabian Debora. Warners provided post-production facilities and talent such as ace re-recording mixer Skip Lievsay, resulting in picture and sound far above the norm for a lower-budget docu.

Popular on Variety


Production: A Chanlin Films/American Film Foundation/Sanders & Mock Prods. presentation. Produced, directed, written by Freida Mock.

Crew: Camera (color/B&W, DV), Erik Daarstad, Hiroki Miyano; editor, Greg Byers; music, Pedro Bromfman; sound (stereo), Bob Schuck, Bruce Nolte; supervising sound editor, Aaron Glascock; re-recording mixer, Skip Lievsay; associate producer, Byers. Reviewed at Los Angeles Film Festival (Free Community Screenings), June 17, 2012. (Also in Hot Docs Film Festival.) Running time: 92 MIN.

With: With: Greg Boyle, Shayna Welcher, Hector Verdugo, Fabian Debora, Louis Perez, Kyle Shoaf, Brian Moon, Veronica Vargas, Kamala Harris. (English, Spanish dialogue)

More Film

  • Q A_Joker_Lawrence-Sher_CKK-Jordanki_fot-Maria-Kowalska_11

    'Joker’ Cinematographer on Joaquin Phoenix’s Transformative Performance

    TORUN, Poland – “Joker” cinematographer Lawrence Sher received a rockstar welcome at the EnergaCamerimage Intl. Film Festival on Monday as attendees struggled to squeeze into a standing-room only conference room for a lively and in-depth Q&A session on the making of the box office sensation. Sher appeared equally excited to be at the event. “Obviously [...]

  • Igor Drljaca, Agata Smoluch Del Sorbo

    Verve Signs 'Disappearance at Clifton Hill' Director Albert Shin (EXCLUSIVE)

    Verve has signed Albert Shin, the director of the buzzy new thriller “Disappearance at Clifton Hill,” Variety has learned. Distribution rights for the film were recently acquired by IFC Midnight and the movie is expected to open in February. “Disappearance at Clifton Hill” debuted at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. It centers on a [...]

  • John Bailey

    John Bailey Urges Cinematographers to Embrace Story Over Technology

    It’s safe to say John Bailey does not miss the trappings of the president’s office at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Speaking at a retrospective celebrating his five decades of cinematography work at Poland’s EnergaCamerimage festival, where Bailey will be honored with a lifetime achievement award this week, he told an audience [...]

  • Justin Bieber Cupid Movie

    Justin Bieber Debuts First Look at 'Cupid' Movie

    Beware of cupid’s arrow. Justin Bieber unveiled a first-look photo for “Cupid,” his upcoming animated movie from Mythos Studios. The image sees a cartooned Bieber, who will voice the god of love, on the side of a cliff with the sun setting in the background. “Cupid” will tell the story of the eponymous mythical being [...]

  • Robert De Niro

    Robert De Niro to Receive SAG Life Achievement Award

    Robert De Niro will be honored with a SAG life achievement award. The legendary actor, who currently stars in Netflix’s “The Irishman” and Warner Bros.’ “Joker,” will receive the performers’ union’s top accolade at the 26th annual SAG Awards on Jan. 19 at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. The award is given annually to [...]

  • Ella Balinska, Kristen Stewart and Naomi

    Film Review: 'Charlie's Angels'

    Most reboots are meaningless (time to rev that franchise back up!). But the new “Charlie’s Angels,” whether it turns out to be a glittering hit or the latest expensive package to get tossed by the audience onto the trash heap of franchise fatigue, feels like a generational rite of passage. The original “Charlie’s Angels,” which [...]

  • Jay Pharaoh2016 MTV Video Music Awards,

    Jay Pharoah Joins Cast of Universal's 'All My Life' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Jay Pharoah has joined the cast of Universal’s drama “All My Life.” Actors Marielle Scott and Kyle Allen will also appear in the film alongside the previously announced cast of Jessica Rothe and Harry Shum Jr. Directed by Marc Meyers, “All My Life” is inspired by the true story of Jenn Carter and her husband, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content