June 4, 2008
Kevin Hearns has a successful career on Wall Street, a beautiful wife in New York City, and a haunting past back at home in Dorchester, where he ran the streets as a violent, racist neo-Nazi kid. When an ailing family member brings him back to Boston, he is forced to face his demons and accept responsibility for young lives lost to the senseless violence and unfounded hatred that characterized his younger days as a skinhead.
A fictional character in the film "Across Dot Ave," which is set to make its New England debut June 7 at the Boston International Film Festival, Hearns is based on a Dorchester native who says his life followed a similar trajectory.
The film's writer and director Mark Ezovski may be from Rhode Island, but he said that Dorchester reminds him of the old New England mill towns of his own past. Between the three-decker homes and what he terms Dorchester's "working-class air," the neighborhood resonated with him and with his story, which is based on what he heard from an old friend in college.
When Ezovski was a student at the University of Rhode Island in the 1990s, he says he met a young guy from Dorchester, who he initially pegged as a new brand of punk rocker with his skinhead-inspired style: tall boots and leather jacket, topped off with a Mohawk.
"We got along famously," Ezovski said, admitting that he didn't understand the political and racial implications of his friend's skinhead-affiliation at first.
As their friendship progressed, Ezovski's friend opened up about his life back in Dorchester--he heard horrifying stories of violent crimes and deep-seated hatred.
"To say the least I was quite surprised by it," Ezovski said, "and it forced me to look at him in a very different light."
But his initial friendship with this man left a young Ezovski with questions about the skinhead subculture as a whole. He simply couldn't understand "why this otherwise sweet, nice, funny guy would be involved in things like this."
The skinhead movement emerged as a working-class subculture in the UK in the 1960s, gaining ground in the United States by the mid-80s. American skinheads are notorious for their racial intolerance and extreme brutality, as well as their signature shaved heads and tall leather boots.
Ezovski's own exposure to the skinhead subculture through his college friend led him to recognize the hypocrisy of the movement, which he tried to expose in "Across Dot Ave."
The director said he realized, "Maybe it's not really about race, but about fear (skinheads) tried to make it seem like it was a real political movement, but it wasn't really about that at the end of the day." The way he grew to understand it, Ezovski said belonging to a group like the skinheads was a way for young people to cope with their own insecurities by supposing racial supremacy and striking fear in others.
Ezovski came to Dorchester while writing the story and later, in the spring and summer of 2007, to shoot the film. "It's important to visit the roots of where this story really comes from," he said. "On a psychological level, that kind of thing is really important."
Plenty of people warned against filming in Dorchester, the director said - they told him it would be complicated, expensive, and time-consuming. But Ezovski knew that it would feel right and it would offer the story an authenticity that many Hollywood films lack. Music by the Dorchester punk band, The Pug Uglies, is also featured in the film.
"A lot of people on the surface level aren't going to notice this," Ezovski said, noting that the vast majority of the film was shot in and around Dorchester. But he believes that scenes featuring the Savin Hill basketball courts or the Flat Black Coffee Company on Washington Street will hold an audience. And when people see the film's characters on Dorchester Avenu - at the Peabody Tavern or Coleen's Flower Shop - they will have a better understanding of the story.
Ezovski hopes that he captured the vibe of a changing Dorchester - "how it's not this working class town that people have forgotten about," he said. "That connection really resonated for me in terms of creating characters and having this landscape for them to be in," Ezovski said.
"Across Dot Ave" will premiere at AMC Loews Theatre at 175 Tremont St. in Boston on June 7 at 10:30 a.m. For additional information and to purchase tickets visit bifilmfestival.com.