Hartford gun-violence doc ‘The Sweetest Land’ to be screened in New Haven
Read On the Hartford Courant by Susan Dunne
In 2009, Aswad Thomas was a college grad and was looking forward to a career playing basketball in Europe. That didn’t happen. On Aug. 24, Thomas was shot on Albany Avenue in Hartford while leaving a convenience store.
Thomas survived and walked again, but his life changed forever. Instead of sports fame, Thomas got a master’s degree in social work from UConn and is now managing director of Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice.
Thomas is one of the community members, first responders, social workers and health workers featured in “The Sweetest Land,” a film about street violence in Hartford. The movie is having its Connecticut premiere on May 30 at the New Haven Documentary Film Festival (NHDocs).
“I want my story to be told. Being released from the hospital back into the same community where the incident happened was a very traumatic experience. There was no follow-up,” Thomas said in a phone interview. “There should have been opportunities to connect myself and my family to counseling, housing relocation. That’s the least you can do.”
The documentary was made — starting about 10 years ago — by Jeffrey Teitler, a filmmaking professor at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain. Teitler also is an artist in residence at Saint Francis Hospital and Medical Center in Hartford, a position he took to facilitate the filmmaking process.
The premise of the documentary is that Thomas’ experience is common for victims of violence in Hartford and that most organizations dedicated to violence prevention and victim services aren’t succeeding.
“Every patient comes [to Saint Francis] on death’s door. A mass of trained, skilled people are urgently helping this patient. All their resources go into this individual and family,” Teitler said in an interview at Saint Francis. “Then you follow the family out of the hospital and there is absolute abandonment.
“Organizations that are supposed to be helping them have awards ceremonies and accolades, but on an anecdotal level, I couldn’t find anything of value there,” he said. “The conversation of prevention has not occurred in the way it needs to have occurred. There needs to be a standard of care.”