One sure sign it’s Sunday in Baltimore is the sweet sound of revving dirt bikes as Baltimore’s Twelve O’Clock Boyz wheelie their way through the city streets. It’s a classically Baltimore conundrum: the bikes are illegal, but, after a fatal high-speed crash a number of years ago, police aren’t allowed to pursue them, either. The Twelve O’Clock Boyz themselves have been both condemned as a gang and lauded as an informal social-support organization in a city without many other options, especially now that rec centers are closing down due to budget crunches. So, who are these dirt bikers of Baltimore? Heroes or villains? Criminals or mentors?
Those were some of the questions that filmmaker Lotfy Nathan, a MICA grad, set to explore three years ago when he began filming the Twelve O’Clock Boyz for a project that would turn into a documentary, Twelve O’Clock in Baltimore, that’s set to premier by the end of 2012.
“I think a lot of people in Baltimore see them tearing through the city, and most people don’t really know what the whole thing’s about,” Nathan told Vice Magazine. “It’s assumed that they’re pushing drugs on dirt bikes—like a pack of dealers, or bandits, or something—which is kind of ridiculous, because these bikes are incredibly loud and attract a lot of attention, which is not what you want if you’re selling drugs.” As for the Boyz’ habit of tearing through city streets, preferably while wheelying, Nathan’s take is that “It’s illegal, but I think it’s a lot more innocent than some of their alternatives.”
Of course, with speed and criminal activity, there are bound to be consequences — like the 6-year old who was hit and seriously injured by a dirt bike earlier this year. But judging from its trailer (below), Nathan’s film is hardly a condemnation of the scene. Instead, as he describes it, Twelve O’Clock in Baltimore “follows a young boy who’s just lost his older brother, and he’s gravitating towards the dirt bike riders. He’s growing up in a rough area in West Baltimore, and you see him acclimating to the group more and more as the story goes on. I just thought he was a kind of poetic representation of why the group exists. It’s kind of like Boy Scouts in the hood, or something like that.”