TV Reviews : Self-Righteous ‘Promises’ Looks at Homeless Issue

“Promises to Keep” is advocacy documentary with a capital A. Producer-director Ginny Durrin’s film about activist Mitch Snyder’s battle to create a model shelter for the homeless in Washington, D.C., is a strong, one-sided affair, near-religious in its moral surety.

“Promises,” airing tonight at 9 on Channel 50 and at 10 on Channel 28, follows Snyder and the Community for Creative Non-Violence as they battle the federal bureaucracy to get funding for a decrepit shelter near the White House, a battle that includes sit-ins, hunger strikes, election-year politicking and playing the news media.

“Promises,” which has been nominated for an Academy Award for best documentary feature, is powerful and moving, particularly in its segments with the homeless.

It is nonetheless weakened by an approach that offers little rebuttal from federal officials. Perhaps Durrin thought that these officials have enough ammo at their disposal, but it is a mistake to include only the more sleazy attacks on Snyder--for example, when a bureaucrat suggests that Snyder has almost a Jim Jones cult-like hold on his fellow activists.


The show’s “holy crusade” tone also detracts from the promise of “Promises.”

Martin Sheen’s narration borders on the self-righteous, as does the continual use of gospel music and the invocation of God. Part of this can be laid at Snyder’s feet--any man who has spent nearly two years fasting for causes probably has the right to be holier-than-thou.

God and media smarts--a one-two punch that couldn’t be fended off even by an Administration whose leader said “people . . . sleeping on the grates . . . are homeless by choice.”