Gravitas Ventures Offers Audiences an Intimate Look Into "The Friendliest Town"

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Gravitas Ventures, a Red Arrow Studios company, has acquired for release Ace Spectrum Productions timely investigative documentary feature film "The Friendliest Town," the directorial debut from award winning journalist with The Real News Network, and author Stephen Janis.


Produced by award winning journalists Taya Graham and Janis (hosts of TRNN's Police Accountability Report, and producers and co-creators of the award-winning podcast Truth and Reconciliation on Baltimore's NPR affiliate WYPR), this riveting documentary chronicles a startling tale of institutionalized racism working against the dedicated efforts of the first African American Police Chief, Kelvin Sewell in the small town of Pocomoke on Maryland's lower Eastern Shore.


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The national debate over policing generally misses a critical point: how embedded law enforcement is in the political power structure of this country.  Historically this has situated law enforcement at a critical juncture in conflicts regarding race, equity, and politics. This complex story made national news and shines spotlight on the insidious racism often just under the surface. Gravitas Ventures across North America on all VOD/Digital & Blu-Ray/DVD platforms beginning on January 19, 2021.

Since the death of George Floyd at the hands of police, calls for substantive reform of law enforcement have launched an intense national debate. But an effort by veteran African American officer, Kelvin Sewell to implement community policing in the small racially divided town of Pocomoke is a cautionary tale on limits both to reforms and how racism may be the biggest obstacle to change. 

"The story of The Friendliest Town couldn't be more pressing as it illuminates darker motives and beliefs lurking in the United States today. Using their extensive journalistic backgrounds, Graham and Janis have crafted a compelling film that is a microcosm of issues that are at the forefront of American society," Stated Megan Huggins of Gravitas Ventures.

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 That's the subject of "The Friendliest Town," a gripping documentary feature film which chronicles the turmoil, conflicts, and retribution that embroiled a five-year effort to overhaul a troubled police department amid long simmering racial tensions.

In 2011, the city of roughly 4,000 people which is equally split along racial lines, hired Kelvin Sewell, its first African American police chief.  Sewell, a former Baltimore city homicide investigator and narcotics officer had grown tired of the aggressive tactics used by the Baltimore Police Department…particularly those targeting black communities.

Determined to deploy a different approach to law enforcement, Sewell implemented an intensive community policing plan. He and his officers parked their cars and walked the streets. They got to know residents; they built relationships with people who had been subjected to harsh police tactics and the failing war-on-drugs mindset.

Sewell's system worked: crime plummeted. Residents both black and white became ardent supporters of Sewell's new paradigm of policing. It seemed all was well. Yet a conflict was brewing that would turn the city upside down; an ongoing dispute over racial discrimination engulfed Sewell and his officers in a battle that would not only cost them their jobs and professional reputations, but would thrust them into an emotional legal battle that would touch all segments of the community.

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Award winning The Real News Network reporters Stephen Janis (director) and Taya Graham (producer), traveled over 45 times to the small town on Maryland's lower eastern shore, making the 3 ½ hour trip to cover council meetings, interview residents, and to document the political awakening of the town's African American community. 

"The debate over policing has never been more fraught, or lacking in context," said Director Stephen Janis.  "We are happy to be working with Gravitas to bring The Friendliest Town to a wider audience.  We think the story of how one small town grappled with the issues of race and law enforcement will reveal broader truths about both."

"The Friendliest Town" follows those at the center of this tumultuous racially charged documentary chief Kelvin Sewell, Pastor Ronnie White, Diane Downing, Todd Knock, Rev. James Jones, Michelle Lucas, Joshua Nordstrom; and the filmmaking team is led by director Stephen Janis, produced by Taya Graham and Stephen Janis, with cinematography by Taya Graham, Stephen Janis, Evan Janis, edited by Kelly McAdams, Stephen Janis, with an original score by Stephen Janis.

Stephen Janis and Taya Graham negotiated on behalf of the filmmaking team directly with Megan Huggins on behalf of Gravitas Ventures, a Red Arrow Studios company.

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Where to follow the film and its journey:


Twitter:  @tayasbaltimore

Instagram: @tayasbaltimore 

About Ace Spectrum Productions

Ace Spectrum Productions is a joint venture between investigative reporters Stephen Janis and Taya Graham.  The duo hosts the Police Accountability Report on The Real News Network, a show that covers law enforcement across the country and has garnered millions of views on youtube. 

Prior to producing and directing The Friendliest Town, the pair created the investigative documentary Swimming in Baltimore:  How Poverty Works, an in-depth look at the political economy which drives poverty in Baltimore and in cities across the country. 

Currently the company is developing a new film, "The Black Pandemic: Lead and the Poisoning of the African-American Mind." 

About Gravitas Ventures

Gravitas Ventures, a Red Arrow Studios company, is a leading all rights distributor of independent feature films and documentaries. Founded in 2006, Gravitas connects independent filmmakers and producers with distribution opportunities across the globe. Working with talented directors and producers, Gravitas Ventures has distributed thousands of films into over a hundred million homes in North America - over one billion homes worldwide. Recent releases include The Secret: Dare to Dream, directed by Andy Tennant and starring Katie Holmes; End of Sentence starring Logan Lerman and John Hawkes; Looks that Kill; Tread; Loopers: The Caddie's Long Walk, narrated by Bill Murray; Colin Hanks' All Things Must Pass; and the upcoming Our Friend starring Casey Affleck, Dakota Johnson, and Jason Segel.  For more information, please visit, and follow @GravitasVOD on Twitter and @gravitasventures on Instagram.

About Red Arrow Studios

Red Arrow Studios is one of the world's leading creators and distributors of entertainment content, comprised of an acclaimed network of international production companies and labels in seven territories; world-leading digital studio, Studio71, based in six countries; and global film and TV distributors Red Arrow Studios International and Gravitas Ventures. The group's significant output includes scripted, non-scripted and formatted content and IP, from TV and film to short-form and branded content, made for an array of global networks and platforms. Red Arrow Studios is part of ProSiebenSat.1 Media SE, one of Europe's leading media groups.

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