MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Lotfy Nathan
Film Pulse Score: 8.5/10
Have you ever been to Baltimore and witnessed a gang of dirt-bike and ATV riders barreling down the streets, weaving in and out of traffic and thought to yourself – ‘What is that all about?” First time filmmaker Lotfy Nathan sets out to answer that question and give the viewer a glimpse into lives of these dirt-bikers, most notably Pug, a thirteen year old boy with a concrete goal to join the 12 O’Clock Boys, the notorious urban dirt-bike gang. Congregating and collectively invading the streets, popping wheelies and other various tricks, and clashing with law enforcement, who are forbidden from chasing them for fear of endangering the public.
Lotfy Nathan spent three years following and filming Pug, starting in early 2010, while also filming the various members of Pug’s family and members of the 12 O’Clock Boys. Nathan’s documentary touches base with Pug’s mother, Coco, and Steven, as a mentor and auxiliary member of the gang, plus some of the riders – Wheelie Wayne, Superman, Shawn Sean and Bam, among others. Pug seems to have an unshakable infatuation with dirt-bikes and ATVs and the most natural progression of that infatuation would be to join the 12 O’Clock Boys, which becomes his main objective. He starts off with a little four-wheeler, riding it around a field near his house and among the other kids he begins to emulate the riders, the people he looks up to. In his own world, among the other kids, he already views himself as a celebrity and ‘one of them’, a member of the 12 O’Clock Boys, all he needs is a dirt-bike.
We follow Pug through the early part of 2010, at the age of 13, and follows basically to the present. Along the way, Pug’s admiration for the members of the urban dirt-bike gang grows readily over that period and appears to be cemented through the loss of his older brother, Tibba. The documentary presents Pug as an intelligent, quick-witted confident kid, which he is, he seems to have an encyclopedic knowledge of all things animals and dirt-bikes. He even wants to be a veterinarian when he grows up.
Pug’s personality positively shines with every scene that he appears, at times being the tough guy, the quick-witted jokester or the ultimate showman while gaining confidence day-in, day-out. In the midst of the daily activities, Pug dispenses profanity-laden insults, a plethora of humorous remarks, statements of his expectations of himself and, in the process, grabs the viewer’s attention and maintains a captivating presence throughout. For all of his macho-man posturing, Pug does have his fair share of moments of vulnerability, example being when his newly purchased dirt-bike is stolen. The heart-breaking look on Pug’s face when he realizes that the man riding his bike, perhaps, might not come back speaks to the undercurrent of emotion Nathan captures in the film.
The cinematography is a perfect balance of cinéma vérité aesthetics, interspersed with beautifully poetic slow-motion shots of the riders in action. These slow-motion moments coupled with pitch-perfect music frame the dirt-bike riding as a sort of artistically choreographed ballet. A dance of defiance while releasing stress riding through the streets of Baltimore.
12 O’Clock Boys is quite the debut for director Lotfy Nathan, who also produced, who has introduced himself as a competent documentarian with a truly personal humanistic touch. 12 O’Clock Boys tells the story of a life of an inner city youth drawn to the allure of dirt-bike riding. Pug’s story more than likely closely resembles the origin stories of a large portion of the 12 O’Clock Boys.