2019 SXSW Film: Ernie & Joe

Directed by Jenifer McShane
Starring: Ernie Stevens and Joe Smarro
CTDFF Rating: 3/5 stars

Two men walk down a residential street.ERNIE & JOE is an immersive look at the issues involved when the worlds of people with mental illnesses and law enforcement officers intersect. Part buddy film, part social commentary, this documentary takes audiences on a personal journey, weaving together the officers' experiences during daily encounters of people in crisis. Ernie and Joe (right) are not your everyday police officers, they are part of the San Antonio Texas Police Department’s 10-person Mental Health Unit.

ERNIE & JOE is an important film, but in terms of disability representation, it barely scratches the surface of mental health. This is more of a personal look at law enforcement and focuses primarily on Ernie and Joe’s stories, rather than the people they interact with and serve. However, it was great to learn about a unit dedicated to mental health in a law enforcement agency in Texas. I enjoyed going on a day-in-the life journey with Ernie and Joe; they are doing incredible work. The most compellings perspectives, however, lied in the communication with people in crisis. These scenes were very important and provided useful tips. I was also happy to see the officers return to check on the people they had helped.

I believe the structure of the film needed some more development, and I really would have liked to see more about the people Ernie and Joe help. Overall, though, it's important to start public conversations about law enforcement and serving people in mental crises, and the emotional depth captured in the film does a lot to serve that end.

More: Director Jenifer McShane Discusses Her Documentary About Mental Health – SXSW Filmmaker In Focus


April 26, 2019, Jennifer Bracy- Development Specialist & CTDFF staff

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