By Mark Saldana

Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)

In addition to the many services and resources the Marlene Meyereson JCC Manhattan offers, the community center has maintained a solid arts and film program including multiple Israeli film festivals. New this year to the JCC Manhattan is a film festival which honors and celebrates movies that deal with various social and political issues. The goal of the festival is to promote democracy, progressive reforms, and social justice. The opening night film is a powerful example of fictional cinema that deals with real life issues faced by wrongfully accused Black Americans in the US justice system. Featuring another exceptional performance by talented actor Kelvin Harrison Jr, All Rise is a such a film that cries out for justice against racism and racial disparity.

Harrison stars as Steve Harmon, an honor student and aspiring filmmaker and artist facing a murder trial and a frighteningly uncertain future. Accused as serving as an accomplice in a robbery/murder, Steve anxiously goes through the criminal process from arrest and legal counseling to trial while constantly reflecting on the chain of events which got him there in the first place. Steve may have a connection with the other, more dubious prime suspects (John David Washington, ASAP Rocky), but does this acquaintanceship make him the guilty monster, the prosecuting attorney (Paul Ben Victor) says he is?

Based on the novel Monster by author Walter Dean Myers, All Rise offers a tense and unnerving examination of the African-American experience in the criminal justice system. Screenwriters Radha Blank, Cole Wiley, Janece Shaffer, and director Anthony Mandler have made an emotionally charged film that offers much insight into this experience. The movie poses many questions, and makes the audience think somewhat critically about crime, the trial process, the possible punishment, and the ramifications of such punishment. The filmmakers don’t offer any easy answers, and definitely keep the audience on the edges of their seats until the conclusion. The movie does tread some very familiar territory regarding the material. In fact, 2019 offered several films which deal with similar themes and subjects. Still, All Rise remains somewhat distinctive in that the lead character is a minor.

And portraying the lead role of Steve Harmon, is the impressively talented Kelvin Harrison Jr. Last year, Harrison gave some superb performances in movies Luce and Waves. Once again, the young actor does not disappoint with another tremendous turn in this movie. The movie also features an outstanding support cast that includes John David Washington, Jennifer Ehle, Mikey Madison, Tim Blake Nelson, Jeffrey Wright, Jennifer Hudson, ASAP Rocky, and Paul Ben Victor.

As I stated above, this great movie started off the Cinematters: NY Social Justice Film Festival. The festival began on Thursday, January 16 and will continue through Monday January 20 in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. For more information on the festival or the Meyerson JCC and the other programs the center offers, go to https://jccmanhattan.org/.

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