Tod Lending follows up his Oscar-nominated “Legacy” with the new doc “Omar and Pete,” premiering April 6 in the Chicago International Documentary Festival’s Grand Prix Competition.
For three years Lending trailed Leon Omar Mason and Pete Duncan, roommates in a Baltimore transitional home for men who were recently released from prison.
Both men have spent their lives in the revolving door of release and reincarceration, battling addictions and other demons in a struggle to turn their lives around.
“Omar and Pete” will screen in competition at the San Francisco International Film Festival, which runs April 21-May 5. The PBS series “POV” will broadcast the doc nationally in September.
Lending came to the story of “Omar and Pete” through his work on 2000’s “Legacy.” “I had told the story of women being on welfare and struggling in public housing and dealing with community violence,” he said. “I didn’t get to tell the stories of the men, because many of the men were in prison.”
He pitched major “Legacy” funder The Annie E. Casey Foundation to tell the parallel tale of men returning from prison to their communities. The Foundation agreed to fund the project that would become “Omar and Pete.”
“I wanted to find a situation where, for these men coming out of prison, their potential to make it would be at its best,” he said. He found the Maryland Reentry Program, which aids former offenders’ reintegration into society through counseling, housing and education.
“While Omar failed, Pete made it, and went on to help others in his situation,” Lending said. “He attributes making it to the fact that for the first time in his life, he got the support he needed, at a time when he was ready to take it.”
California-based Outreach Extensions will screen “Omar and Pete” for a variety of community and advocacy groups, in conjunction with other docs on the subject of ex-offender reintegration, to maximize the social impact of the work.
“You can’t fund a film through foundations without outreach,” Lending said. “And that’s where you see your film used as a tool for social change. It’s not going to happen through broadcast on TV or a limited theatrical release.”
Lending worked with Outreach Extensions on “Legacy.” “The pinnacle of its use came through creating federal legislation that provided low-income housing for grandparents raising grandchildren,” he said. “That’s how far the film could go.”
Lending is starting post on “Aimee’s Crossing,” another feature doc, that grew out of research for “Omar and Pete.” In “Aimee’s Crossing” Lending follows Illinois teen Aimee Myers through the juvenile justice system as she contends with a history of sexual abuse, substance abuse and mental health issues.
He’s is development on “Why War?” a biography of New York Times correspondent Chris Hedges and an adaptation of Hedges’ 2002 book “War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning,” which examines the psychological foundations of war and psychoanalytic strategies for transcending war. Lending hopes to start shooting next year.
“Omar and Pete” screens April 6 at 11:30 a.m. at the Gallery Theatre, 1112 N. Milwaukee, and April 7 at 8 p.m. at the Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division. The Documentary Festival runs April 1-10. See www.chicagodocfestival.com. For more on Lending’s work see www.nomadicpix.com.