Later is better than never. It's taken ages for NBC to come up with an air date for "Lives in Hazard," tonight's documentary about inner-city youth that was filmed largely on the same streets of East Los Angeles where executive producer and narrator Edward James Olmos grew up.
Preceded by an upbeat message from President Clinton about ending the plight of "desperate children," the raw and searing hour is worth the wait.
"Lives in Hazard" was shot by producer/directors Susan Todd and Andrew Young as Olmos was directing and starring in "American Me," his movie about gang brutality in the barrios, and to some extent this is a documentary about the making of that film, intersected by seemingly candid interviews with actual gang members. Some of them appeared in "American Me," and tonight they discuss the macho and familial attractions of both gangs and prison in an environment that appears to preclude other possibilities. As one young man explains, "Prison was a thing I wanted to go to, (not) college."
At once poignant and horrifying, "Lives in Hazard" was completed prior to the Los Angeles riots of 1992 and addresses the drug dealing and drive-by shootings and other violence that continues to sap the life and hope from these Latino communities.
The documentary is at its most tense and powerful when its cameras enter Folsom State Prison to show Olmos and his "American Me" company filming sequences there, with some of the institution's sweaty, weight-lifting, tattoo-marked inmates as extras. And it's at its most heartbreaking when reporting, in an otherwise upbeat postscript, that one of the anti-gang heroines of the documentary--a Latina who also had a role in "American Me"--was herself slain by gang members in 1992.
* "Lives in Hazard" airs at 8 tonight on NBC (Channels 4, 36 and 39).