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SXSW 2019: “Ernie & Joe” is a documentary full of heart

“Ernie & Joe” punched me in the gut. I was not expecting such a visceral reaction to this film, but that’s the brilliance of director Jenifer McShane (“Mothers of Bedford,” “A Leap of Faith”). “Ernie & Joe” had its World Premiere at the SXSW 2019 Film Festival as part of the Documentary Feature Competition.

The documentary follows two members of the San Antonio Police Department’s 10-person Mental Health Unit who are helping to change the way police respond to mental health calls. We get intimate access to Ernie & Joe, two officers who are trying (and succeeding) in doing it right.

At first read through the synopsis, I thought I was in for a straightforward documentary on a mental illness unit. But “Ernie & Joe” is a roller coaster of emotions, so you better have some tissues ready. The way McShane was able to thread and weave between mental illness, Ernie & Joe as individuals, commentary on masculinity, and commentary on the decisiveness of officer and civilian relationships is masterful. The film is never preachy or biased.

It could have been easy to focus on the initiative of the mental health unit without following any individuals. But that wouldn’t have done justice to the San Antonio unit. And McShane knew it. Seeing through Ernie and Joe’s experience is the lens that is needed to really feel the impact of this department and the work that is being done.

Ernie & Joe are not perfect individuals and the film not only shows the good work these two are doing but the struggles they both have in their personal lives. They are human and struggling just like the people they are helping. That’s powerful to watch and you won’t want to miss it.

You can find a screening of “Ernie and Joe” here.

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