Cutting to the Heart of Our Lives – CIRCLES by Gary Friedman

There is a wonderful new documentary that has just been finished that I find quite compelling for two reasons.  First, it’s a film done by my son, Cassidy Friedman.  I have always found anything he does compelling.  The second reason, which I think would be of more interest to you, is that the film focuses on the professional and personal life of an extraordinary conflict professional in the restorative justice field, Eric Butler, who is part of the CUC teaching team in our next mediation training program for mixed race participants.  A Hurricane Katrina survivor who works to keep Black teenagers in school in Oakland, California.   Eric finds his personal and professional lives colliding when his 15-year-old son goes to jail for a crime he didn’t commit.

For so many of us doing this work as mediators or other conflict professionals, walking our talk means a lot.  The effort for us to be congruent in our personal lives with our professional aspirations promises the possibility of an integrated life.  For those of us coming from a background of law, the experience of finding ourselves living a contradiction between our personal and professional lives  is a frequent motivation for us to work as mediators or other conflict professionals. We watch Eric struggle with the disparity between his remarkable ability to connect with and touch the lives of high school kids at risk of entering the school-to-prison pipeline and his failure to reach his son at the crossroads of the same tension.

Eschewing the formulaic approach to restorative justice, Eric connects with the kids he is trying to help through extraordinary empathy, unwavering  commitment to the students and total authenticity.  As a result , these students find a kind of support from Eric that many of us count on from our parents but which is rarer and life-changing, and for many of them, missing elsewhere in their lives. Yet Eric’s son; Tre, feels the same lack of understanding from his father that Eric provides to the others. As the story unfolds, we watch from the inside as Eric and his son come to terms with Tre’s growing up that allows Tre to avoid the abyss.

Eric’s work is very much in the trenches of the conflict resolution field, the schools where at-risk youth predominate.  We watch him find the support he needs from the school principal to break the norms of going through the motions to make real connections that penetrate to the inner lives of the students.   We also get a look at Eric’s own background and challenges in his own growing up and the support he was able to find to escape the same fate that met many others without sufficient parental understanding  and support.

The film is now entering its phase of the film festival rounds and will be shown at the Oxford, Mississippi festival in February.  If you’re interested in the film, let us know and we’ll keep you in the loop so that you can have a chance to see it and you can also follow the film by searching @restorativejusticefilm on Facebook.