Mott Haven by Kyle Morrison (Documentary) | Omeleto

A student from a local neighborhood of Mott Haven in the South Bronx area is murdered. A social worker decides to rally the devastated high school, putting on a show in his honor.

But as the students organize, rehearse and prepare for the show as they grieve the loss of their friend and peer, they discover their own voices and victories amid their own issues and challenges.

Director Kyle Morrison has crafted a wonderfully heartwarming short documentary that earns its warmth, inspiration and charm through a genuine affection and engagement with the film’s subjects. The loose, often handheld camerawork doesn’t shy away from the realities of these kids’ lives — they face poverty, the deck is stacked against them, and they’re often frequently ignored, denigrated or marginalized by society.

But despite their disadvantages and setbacks, they persevere in the wake of tragedy. As Morrison traces the development of the show, with sharp editing and lean storytelling, viewers get to know the students, learning about their trials, talents, hopes, dreams and fears. What emerges is a 360-degree portrait of a group of kids, and a neighborhood, but without the traditional cliches of the typical inspirational video.

Most of all, we understand what it means to be part of a community from the film — and how a loss of one of its members can affect the other parts of it, or even the whole. The film doesn’t minimize the challenges of living in the South Bronx, but it also takes care to show the richness of their bonds and connections to one another.

It’s affecting to watch these kids of “Mott Haven” grieve their friend and deal with their raw pain, but it’s also remarkable to see them transmute their suffering into art and expression — and just see just how talented they are and how much they have to offer the world.

Deb McKoy