SXSW 2019: Ernie and Joe

Officers Smarro and Stevens on the job in San Antonio. Photo Credit: Matthew Busch

Ernie and Joe shows how the San Antonio Police Department is leading the nation in how our country responds to mental health.

Officers Ernie Stevens and Joe Smarro may just be two members of the SAPD but their job is crucial.  Both of them are among ten people working for the police’s Mental Health Unit.  As we’ve seen over the years, our nation’s police forces are ill-equipped in responding to mental health calls.  The documentary shows us that this particular unit is very well leading the way.

Filmmaker Jennifer McShane makes great use of the officers’ dash cam when it comes to mental health responses.  Thanks to the police scanner, the two of them can respond quicker to mental health calls.  This allows for other officers to respond to the other calls.  When it comes to mental health, they know just how important it is to have the right response.  Moreover, these responses are mixed into the film as we’re learning about their backgrounds.

The common calls that they receive relate to depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and PTSD.  Having the right response to calls could very well save a life.  The wrong response might result in devastation.

We see the two of them training new police cadets.  During the last few years, San Antonio has strengthened their requirements.  New cadets in the Police Academy now must attend 40 hours of training as a result.  Previously, cadets took 60 hours of training for shotguns alone!  Only eight hours had been required for mental health and communications.  This is absolutely astonishing to say the least.  It’s because of these changes that other police departments are looking to San Antonio’s MHU for guidance.  Because of the popularity of training in San Antonio, they now extend it to other members of the community at large.

It’s important that police departments learn to change because one in five Americans have a diagnosed mental illness.  A simple flare-up need not result in the SWAT team showing up at your door.  I’m exaggerating a little bit but I hope you get the idea here.

While it’s true that there are a few bad apples, Ernie and Joe shows some of the good guys when it comes to mental health.  Of course, it would not be an on-brand movie in 2019 there wasn’t a Bohemian Rhapsody reference.  It’s no doubt a cheesy moment but it’s quite the easter egg.

DIRECTOR:  Jennifer McShane
FEATURING:  Ernie Stevens, Joe Smarro

Ernie and Joe holds its world premiere during the 2019 SXSW Film Festival in the Documentary Feature Competition. Grade: 3.5/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.