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Street Fight ***1/2

By R. Pitman

A film festival favorite and Oscar nominee for Best Documentary, Marshall Curry's eye-opening Street Fight follows the last 120 days in the 2002 election race for mayor of Newark, NJ—a political slugfest that pitted 32-year-old Cory Booker, an idealistic Rhodes Scholar and Yale Law School graduate, against four-time incumbent Sharpe James. What sets this race apart—among other variables—is the issue of race itself: both men are African-American Democrats (although that doesn't stop old school political machine veteran James from calling Booker a "white Republican" and "tool of the Jews"). In one of the most incisive segments in the film, a black interviewee points out, "We tell our children to get educated, and when they do, we call them white. What kind of a message does that send?" Originally, Curry set out to make a film that would cover the campaigns of both candidates, but soon found out that he was not welcome in the James camp, as plainclothes police escorted the struggling filmmaker out of a tent during one of James' speeches (wisely, Marshall leaves the camera running, hanging at his side, to record the thuggish behavior of the cops). Unbelievably, as the campaigns wind down, Curry captures incredible stories of city workers critical of Sharpe's administration receiving demotions, of businesses sporting Booker signs being targeted for code violations, and of a terrible blow to the Booker campaign when a manager is photographed outside a strip joint (James takes full advantage of this until the club owner points out in an interview that James himself has also been a visitor). But it's clear that the real fight takes place in the streets, where the amiable and dedicated Booker tirelessly goes door-to-door (in one wonderful sequence, a young teenage girl swoons after shaking Booker's hand, which she says, "smells like the future"), while James focuses more on throwing big breakfasts and catered parties for key communities. Although the outcome is a matter of public record, I won't reveal it here, since in addition to being a telling behind-the-scenes chronicle, Street Fight is also suspenseful. Highly recommended. Aud: C, P. (R. Pitman)

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