Competing as a doc feature finalist in competition at Indy's 2019 Heartland International Film Festival, Jenifer McShane's Ernie & Joe is an intimate portrait of two Texas police officers, Ernie Stevens and Joe Smarro, who are helping change the way that police respond to mental health calls.
In a mostly matter-of-fact manner, Ernie & Joe takes audiences on a personal journey through Ernie and Joe's personal experiences during their daily encounters with people who are in crisis. Responding with guns tucked away, Ernie and Joe work to de-escalate potential confrontations and, whenever possible, divert people toward needed mental health services rather than the all too familiar incarceration that seldom does anything to actually address the problem.
Having had its world premiere at the 2019 SXSW Festival, Ernie & Joe has picked up prizes at Independent Film Festival of Boston (Grand Jury Prize, Best Documentary), Port Townsend Film Festival (Best Documentary Feature), and SXSW (Special Jury Award for Empathy in Craft, Doc Feature). While Ernie & Joe doesn't flinch in showing the challenging circumstances in which the two officers can find themselves, the film does contain strong language and mature themes, McShane's obvious compassion for both the officers and this subject matter is evident throughout the film's 96-minute running time.
McShane, who will be in attendance during the film's run at Heartland, beautifully captures the impact that Stevens and Smarro, two of 10 officers in the mental health unit of the San Antonio Police Department, have on the people they serve. The impact that the mental health unit has is having an impact on the overall police department as well, mandatory training for new officers in the areas of mental health and communication having increased from a mere 8 hours to a full-on 40 hours of training. While that may not seem like a lot for a unit that may encounter schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, PTSD and other mental health concerns, it's massive improvement over a good number of the nation's police departments.
Ernie & Joe is a richly human, hopeful documentary and captures with conviction why police departments around the country are starting to turn to the San Antonio Police Department as more and more departments nationwide face the facts that simply incarcerating those in need of mental health supports isn't the answer.
Ernie & Joe gives us an answer and Jenifer McShane gives us an engaging, informative feature doc that screens four times during the 2019 Heartland International Film Festival including:
October 12th at 5:30pm at DeBoest Lecture Hall at Newfields
October 15th at 5:10pm at AMC Castleton Square 14
October 18th at 8:00pm at DeBoest Lecture Hall at Newfields
October 19th at 7:20pm at AMC Castleton Square 14
For ticket information, visit HeartlandFilm.org.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic