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UMD Alumnus Directs Acclaimed Documentary

Dirk Cannon and Marilyn Moore

Dirk Cannon, a 1985 alumnus, is passionate about telling community stories. His first major project, the documentary Community Heroes: Peaceful Urban Warriors, directed by Cannon and produced by his wife, Marilyn Moore, has already received attention.

The film won 'Best Social Documentary' at the 2010 New York International Independent Film Festival. It was also a part of the October 2010 Urban Mediamakers Film Festival in Atlanta Georgia. It has earned critical acclaim for exploring the underlying problems, causes, and solutions to youth violence.

In 2007 there were 59 murders in Minneapolis; 28 of them were on the North Side of Minneapolis. By the end of 2009, the homicide rate was at the lowest it has been in a quarter century. Peaceful Urban Warriors highlights the 12 organizations who are responsible for helping to lower the city's homicide rate. Cannon's documentary focuses on the community heroes who are making a difference in the lives of both victims and perpetrators of youth violence and gang activity. Cannon shot 50 hours of film, interviewing administrators, students, mentors, and others. See the trailer for the documentary.

One of the organizations featured in the documentary, Bolder Options, mentors youth, sponsors 5k runs, and promotes a healthier way to live. "It helps at-risk teens to go to college, so they can come back to help other young people," said Cannon. Peaceful Urban Warriors also features High School for the Recording Arts geared towards helping students receive high school diplomas. "The school keeps kids off of the streets and away from drugs and prostitution," Cannon said. Another organization taking action against youth violence is MADDADS or Men Against Destruction, Defending Against Drugs and Social-disorder. The program helps teens examine and end the cycle of violence. "Hurt teens retaliate and that results in a type of blood feud," said Cannon. "Fathers who have lost their children to prison or violent death are grieving. They are the ones who formed this program to mentor and save kids."

Peaceful Urban Warriors accents the people who are doing effective work. Cannon said TV news focuses on the negative. "You hear about the blood and guts. That's why it was so important for us to make this documentary - to spread the 'Good News'." Peaceful Urban Warriors premiered in June 2010 at the Capri Theater on the North Side of Minneapolis to a near-capacity crowd.

Images from the film. See the trailer.

Cannon wasn't always a documentary filmmaker. He graduated from UMD in 1985 with a Bachelor of Arts in Applied Science and worked in the industrial trades and construction fields until about three years ago. That's when Cannon had a stroke that landed him in the Minneapolis Veteran's Administration hospital.

After Cannon recovered, he thought about starting a new construction company but his wife had another idea. "I urged him to do something he really wanted to do," Moore said. "I wanted his work to make him happy."

Cannon had always been attracted to film making so he took his wife's advice and started Eagle Heart Productions. "I bought a good commercial camera and all the equipment to go with it," he said. Then he met with Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak. "I was hoping to profile him," said Cannon. Rybak suggested a film about youth violence instead. The Peaceful Urban Warriors project was the result.

The success of Peaceful Urban Warriors has inspired Cannon to plan films on other topics. "There are community heroes in many, many different fields," Cannon said. "The people working on homelessness and hunger are true heroes." Cannon has been inspired by a friend who works at the Bowery Mission in New York City. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is another topic on Cannon's list of future documentaries. "When I was in the VA hospital, I heard young men, veteran's of the conflict in Afghanistan, screaming in the night," he said. "They are America's heroes and the caregivers assisting people with PSTD are heroes as well."

Cannon said that his work with documentaries is helping restore the spirituality of the old days. "Minneapolis is moving in the right directions: communities are watching out for each other."

Written by Cheryl Reitan with Brian Robertson and Zach Lunderberg.

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