Omar Broadway was born to hustle, selling drugs on the corners of East Orange, NJ and building his rap sheet along the way. In 1999, after being arrested for carjacking a cab with a sawed-off shotgun, he was sentenced to ten years at Newark's maximum-security Northern State Prison. Assigned to the Security Threat Group Management Unit (STGMU), designed to separate and rehabilitate high-profile leaders of gangs like the Bloods (of which he was a member) and the Crips, Broadway was appalled by the poor treatment and substandard conditions to which he and his fellow prisoners were subjected.
Five years into his term, at great risk to himself and his cellmate, Broadway secretly shot footage with a smuggled video camera over a period of 14 weeks, hoping to use the results as a bargaining tool for early release. AN OMAR BROADWAY FILM chronicles the reality of life inside one of today's most notoriously violent prisons.
An official selection of the Tribeca Film Festival, AN OMAR BROADWAY FILM features video of the impossibly claustrophobic cell that Broadway shares with Buddy Randolph 23 hours a day. The documentary also includes footage from the hardscrabble streets of East Orange, where Broadway fell into a life of drug dealing as a youth, and where gang life and incarceration are rites of passage for thousands of young men. Interviewees include Broadway's family members, including his mother Lynne, as well as prison officials, law enforcement personnel, ex-cons and other filmmakers who have trained their lens on gangs, law enforcement and the prison system.
The visceral heart and soul of AN OMAR BROADWAY FILM is the prison footage, which shows Broadway and his cellmate shadowboxing as if their lives depended on it and cooking up special meals to supplement the rations supplied by the prison. In another segment, a teary Broadway records messages of love for his mother and the baby daughter he held just once before his incarceration.
The film offers no easy answers about the causes of or remedies to the violence of prison life. Many guards grew up in the same gang-infested neighborhoods as the inmates they now oversee, and are all but forced to adopt a gang mentality to retain the upper hand in the struggle for control.
Douglas Tirola produced the feature-length documentaries "Owning the Weather," "Making the Boys" and "All In: The Poker Movie," which won the Grand Jury Award for Best Documentary at CineVegas International Film Festival in 2009. He made his directorial debut with the feature film drama "A Reason to Believe," which he also wrote. Tirola is president of 4th Row Films, where he continues to produce and write film and TV projects.
AN OMAR BROADWAY FILM was directed by Omar Broadway and Douglas Tirola; producers, Susan Bedusa, Robert Greene and Douglas Tirola; editor, Robert Greene; associate producers, Danielle Rosen and Miguel Camnitzer; music by Lucian Paine and Jessica Kimball.
Wednesday July 14 at 8pm on HBO2