My experience with the documentary White Light, directed by artist George Gittoes, began before I even entered the cinema.
A line of brightly dressed people, patiently waiting to see this film, extended outside the cinema entry and into the dark, rainy world outside. No one seemed too bothered by the rain – everyone’s faces showed the same emotions: excitement and wonder. I already knew that I was going to leave this film as a different person - an improved person. Eventually, the line began to move forward and the energetic chit-chat was hushed as everyone made their way into the cinema and took a seat of their choosing.
After everyone was settled, an older lady stood at the front of the cinema and introduced not only the film to us, but also George Gittoes. He had a very intense persona; as soon as he began to talk, you could tell he deeply cared about the film, the message it was intended to convey, and how it communicated that message. Throughout his lifetime, Gittoes has focused a majority of his work around war. It quickly becomes evident through the solemn atmosphere created by view after view of empty crime scenes, the anger invoked by the never-ending reels of footage showing gun violence and the pain of parents grieving their child’s lost life and potential, that the situation in Englewood is a war of its own.
Gittoes said there’s a problem with a lot of documentaries which he resolves by “coming to it as an artist and messing with the form … like Picasso said: I do not seek, I find. And when we go somewhere, we find it.” And so, the film began, and we went to Englewood, South Side Chicago.
Gittoes provides the raw truth of Englewood – the reality behind the “gang” façade: vulnerability. Guns aren’t about violence and anger; they’re a symbol of protection, a means to protect not only yourself but your loved ones. Putting down the gun has the potential to be equivalent to sacrificing your own family – choosing to stop protecting them and hence, making them easy targets. This is why guns and the culture surrounding them are so important in South-Side Chicago and why without action from the government, the deaths to gun violence will continue to climb over 500 per year in this one small town. Compare this to the 11 U.S. soldier deaths in Iraq. You only need to look up the Chicago Sun-Times, type in Englewood, to decide for yourself: which war is the biggest threat to the quality of life for Americans?
That being said, whilst a majority of the documentary revolves around the pain and suffering brought by gun violence, Gittoes also shows the strength, solidarity, and determination of the people affected by it. By bringing attention to the anti-gun activists and rallies, and the music industry the youth aspire to break into, Gittoes stands his ground in defying the common stereotype that the people are the problem. He makes the audience go home with one simple truth: the people of Englewood are not at war against each other - they’re at war against the normalisation of gun violence.