Interview: Lotfy Nathan chats about the 12 O'Clock Boys
12 O’Clock Boys is the stunning new documentary from Lotfy Nathan. He takes us past the clichéd Baltimore we know from shows such as The Wire and Homicide: Life on the Street and into the surprisingly beautiful world of dirt bike riding. The 12 O’Clock Boys are a gang of dirt bike riders who got their name from their ability to ride whilst doing an almost perfectly vertical wheelie. The footage is slowed down at times and it becomes like watching a slow and beautiful dance with dirt bikes. Aside from being stunning to watch it is also an extremely dangerous activity which has resulted in both rider and pedestrian deaths. And yet in Baltimore the 12 O’Clock Boys are much more than just another gang. They offer a positive alternative to life as a “Corner Boy” despite the fact that what they are doing is illegal and that they are often followed by police helicopters.
I spoke with director Lotfy Nathan about the inspiration to make this film and of course its tenacious star, a 12 year old boy named Pug who aspires to become a member of the 12 O’Clock Boys:
How did you first hear about the 12 O’Clock Boys?
I first saw them around the city while was going to school there, I’d been living there for a few years and I saw them a few times so that’s how I first encountered them.
What was your initial response to seeing them? What was going through your head?
I really had no idea what they were, what they were doing. They seemed kind of surreal it seemed very per formative though so I was interested in what it was about.
In the opening scene who is the man in the voiceover complaining about the 12 O’Clock Boys?
The person is Ed Norris, former Chief of Police.
Does he represent the general reaction to this kind of activity?
Reaction is really divided. It’s certainly one reaction in Baltimore that he represents. One side of it.
What are you hoping that viewers will get from this film?
I hope that people see more of why this kind of thing exists and what it’s borne out of.
How did you feel about Pug doing some of the more dangerous tricks? Because he is so small for his age I felt really concerned watching it.
Yeah, me too. I agree. I also felt concerned the whole time filming. It wasn’t easy but his ambition was there regardless of my presence.
Obviously you didn’t want to interfere
What were your thoughts on the pedestrian casualties? Where you shocked to learn about that?
Yes, I was. I was very shocked but not surprised you know because it’s bound to create accidents.
Pug is obviously very smart and it seems somewhat stifled by his environment. Do you feel this is why he gets in trouble so often at home and at school?
Yeah exactly. I think it is. You know he’s fighting against something and he’s not necessarily able to get his talents nurtured in school and it has something to do with his rebelliousness – something that a lot of kids have inherently. I do think that he’s in a frustrated situation and kind of limited environment.
Do you think that joining the 12 O’Clock boys is in fact a positive alternative to joining criminal gangs in Baltimore?
The whole world around the bikes is a kind of alternative for a lot of people and you have to put it into context living in Baltimore, in the inner city. The other options are readily available so this almost becomes a kind of wholesome sport for those kids.
Are there ever any girls that might try to join the 12 O’Clock Boys or is this strictly a male activity?
It’s mostly guys because I think usually guys want that kind of testosterone or at least in that form. I’ve seen a couple of girls and they’re readily accepted and I think it’s exciting for the riders to see that but there aren’t that many.
Do you know where Pug is now?
I spent a lot of time with Pug so you know we keep in touch with his family. He’s living his life as he was before.
Has he managed to get another Bike?
We’re not sure exactly what his situation is with his bike.
Is he still trying to become a member of the 12 O’Clock Boys?
He’s still aspiring to be a part of that group.
Generally how many years does somebody need to practice before they’re deemed good enough to be accepted?
You just to have to be able to keep up really.