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by Peter Knegt
March 15, 2011 3:00 AM
20 Comments
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"Little Birds" Director Elgin James Sentenced To Prison

Elgin James, director of 2011 Sundance Film Festival competition entry "Little Birds," was sentenced to a year in prison last week in Chicago. According to the Chicago Tribune, James - a former leader of a national gang called FSU - was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Suzanne B. Conlon on Tuesday for the 2006 attempted extortion of a Chicago-area musician who was the target of beatings by FSU. James had offered to make the beatings stop for $5,000.

"The last few months have been a juxtaposition of the best and worst of my life," James said after court in a statement. "Today I faced my day of reckoning. … I have accepted responsibility for my past, and I am now looking forward to continuing my film career."

The sentencing came just hours after the 41-year old James received a Hollywood screenwriting a contract, a result of his directorial debut "Birds" screening at Sundance in the U.S. competition program. He had told indieWIRE just before Sundance that he was utilizing his film work to start over, after his life in the gang.

"Little Birds" director Elgin James. Image courtesy of the Sundance Institute.

"I grew up in an unstable environment," James said in an interview with indieWIRE at the Sundance Film Festival. "I was terrified of the world as a kid and the only time I ever felt safe was when I was lost in a movie.  Even as I grew older, and hardened myself with the same violence I'd feared as a kid, the only time I ever felt at peace was in a dark movie theater, dreading the moment the lights came up and I was thrust back into the real world.  So when I changed my life and decided to start over, there was only one thing I wanted to do. And that was to make movies."

Sixty letters of support were sent on James' behalf, one of which was from Sundance founder Robert Redford.

"I believe that Elgin has the potential to make a difference," Redford wrote to the judge. "He has an important message for people of all ages and the possibility of change (and) the power of nonviolence."

For more on the story, check out the Chicago Tribune. Click here to watch a video interview with "Little Birds" lead Juno Temple, where she speaks fondly of James.

20 Comments

  • fuck straight edge | January 18, 2013 2:14 AMReply

    i respect mr.james but idk how he can completely jus change like that he went from being fsu leader to this ??? wtf you coused sooo much negitiveity on your people you make hardcore look bad every one of you faggets in fsu an currage crew need to smoke a fucking blunt an relax
    i love hardcore more then enything an when kids like fsu pillage my beleifs on their right wing cristan beilefs they need to die

  • BOSTONREALIST | July 23, 2012 7:36 PMReply

    Find a new target.

  • BOSTONREALIST | July 23, 2012 7:03 PMReply

    What chickens? He did his time. That is that. What comeuppance? He left that world behind. Any comeuppance is saved for those so-called FSU members out there today contradictorily trying to build their legacy upon what they simultaneously call Elgin's lies. Move on.

  • BostonPacifist | February 14, 2012 2:43 PMReply

    The chickens have come home to roost. Biggest, most psychotic narcissistic maniac. Deserves way more jail time than this. There are about 3-4 other dudes from Ethan's little playhouse gang who will get their comeuppance as well. Good riddance scumbag. You hurt a lot of innocent people Elgin. Karma is a biitch ain't it?

  • discharge | September 19, 2011 6:03 AMReply

    It's hardly surprising that some 'artistic' types are endorsing this man (the same way many endorsed sexual abuser Roman Polanski, because he has made good films). Unfortunately for their sensibilities, his creativity in no tangible way minimizes the criminal behavior he chose to indulge in as an adult. Someone can be both creative, disruptive and prone to violence.

    Regardless if an unsympathetic victim was involved, James knowingly chose to commit a crime, and deserves the sentence he received. He's not being thrown into the hole at Alcatraz for seven years, nor is he being sent to a gulag. He is savvy enough to portray himself as hardcore street kid with a hidden heart o' gold who has changed his ways, when in reality he was simply a bully and abuser from an upper middle class background who got his kicks from his domination and intimidation of others in the punk and hardcore scene.

  • Boston | June 26, 2011 3:23 AMReply

    Is it possible that some of the people victimized by Mr. James might be slightly offended/ troubled by the fact that he has recast himself as the victim and has now been richly rewarded for it?

    Mr. James wasn't in a gang, he was the gang.

    The son of a Connecticut doctor, a self proclaimed gang leader preying on kids on Boston's upscale Lansdowne Street, being a shot caller for his gang, having people physically beaten just by picking up the phone is now just a "scared little boy, terrified of the world making love letters to the strong women in his life"?

    Is Whitey Bulger participating in Sundance this year? I heard he was just a scared little boy, terrified of the world whose one true desire was to make movies.

  • herty | June 15, 2011 12:13 PMReply

    nathan is a total fake. always was. no one in boston ever bought his 'life story.' he became a pacifist only after he knew he was going to prison. fake through and through. walking bs.

  • Blonz | June 7, 2011 11:49 AMReply

    I saw a program that featured LSU.I don't really get any gang affiliation.I mean I get belonging,I get familia,but really???Everyone has a common denominator is belonging.But when the chips are down,where are your people??Do the crime, do the time,it applies to everyone and everything.I live in a state where gangs are rampant....Just don't get it.So on the note I say wtf ever....

  • your DeMiSe | May 2, 2011 8:31 AMReply

    Nothin but a buncha children on here crying... I know this dude and he was always calling FSU out on their s#it. Publicly and privately. Probably hated them as much as you do. Everyone knows he got stuck trying to steer a sinking ship back onto path when his peeps left to join M.C.'s. That's why when he finally bailed so did the real chapters Philly and Chi-Town and all the old Boston heads. He's doing a bid for making a Nazi p.o.s. give money to charity and that makes him a hero in my book. So stop sniveling on the internet and grow a pair.
    And PS- since he left, FSU are nothing but a bunch of drug dealers and nazis now. Everything he hated. Go figure.

  • HARDCORE | May 2, 2011 4:02 AMReply

    FSU chapters in other cities should dissolve and wake up to fucking reality: you got tricked into thinking you were cool. y'all never were.
    old school boston heads: it is what it is
    "Elgin" was doing self-righteous bully shit as a career well into his 30s, and repping the fact that 15 year old kids in far-off cities were getting beaten up at hardcore shows by some dumb goons who need to put some some letters on their hats to feel like men. took your "leader" a long time to wise up...how long will it take you?

    FSU = F@GG0T S#IT UNLIMITED

  • chad | May 1, 2011 4:50 AMReply

    elgin james has no credibility. on one interview he tells you fsu is not a gang. and in others its "i was in a gang for most of my life". it depends on who hes tryin to appeal to. hope the dude gets raped.

  • Billy | April 30, 2011 10:03 AMReply

    Don't be fooled by shtick FSU (fuc* shi* up) is a real gang, the "we beat up nazi's" thing is tbs, they will and do attack anyone

  • Jen | April 22, 2011 6:42 AMReply

    CeeJay,

    I'm happy for you that you know Elgin so well after meeting him for 5 minutes in your class.

    I've known him for years...

    Getting caught on tape extorting someone and threating them with violence is not accepting responsibility...where I'm from, it's called "getting caught."

    Elgin is serving a brief time in jail for this one crime...he was not sentenced to jail for all of the other things he has been involved in over the years.

  • CeeJay Scott | March 31, 2011 10:12 AMReply

    Melville, actually, it is not pretentious but rather brave and important to label yourself a pacifist. Mr. James spoke to my class and no matter what he may have done in the past, which he is now serving time in prison for, what's important are his and all of ours actions today, in this moment.

    So what's courageous? Taking responsiblity for your actions and condemning your past to inspire change in others? Or hiding behind anonymity in comments sections across the internet? I don't know you, so I won't judge you, but I got the opportunity to meet Elgin James and am very appreciative of the fact.
    signed CeeJay Scott

  • Melville | March 26, 2011 10:50 AMReply

    You can't get much more pretentious than labelling yourself a pacifist..

    Pacifism is not a way to describe yourself - it is something you live out.

    Maybe some guys can film themselves punching Elgin in the face (like Elgin did to Moby in his "Boston Beatdown" video) then we can see Elgin put his pacifism into practice.

    At the time, Elgin found violence quite hilarious and profitable.

    This isn't some unfortunate kid who grew up in a rough neighborhood surrounded by gang violence. Elgin grew up with all the advantages (despite the nonsense he likes to say) and he used violence as a way to control and intimidate people.

    He's just found a new gig, and he knows the FSU gang-leader schtick isn't gonna play in Hollywood, but the sensitive, woe is me, former gang member thing works better.

  • overit | March 15, 2011 9:44 AMReply

    Why is IndieWire just reporting this?
    It happened a week ago and has been discussed ad nausuem across the interweb. Let's move on.

  • Darkasnight | March 15, 2011 9:21 AMReply

    Too bad, Little Birds showed promise.

  • xedgewisex | March 15, 2011 8:19 AMReply

    Actually, he became a pacifist long before he was arrested. And he didn't go to trial, he pled guilty. Also the "extortion" was having a former Neo Nazi skinhead give money to an anti-racist charity so he would stop getting beaten up. Which may be illegal, but was actually the non violent solution. FYI, the "victim" of that case then went on to stab someone to death two years later, while Elgin went on to renounce violence and become a filmmaker.
    He was surely no angel, but he's taken responsibility for his past and has used filmmaking to talk against gangs and violence. Definitely not saying you should feel sorry for him, just saying you should judge someone on who they are today, not what they were.

  • BigBadWolf | March 15, 2011 6:56 AMReply

    Not feeling sorry for him at all. It's not like he was a misguided youth who didn't know better. He was a 35 year-old adult. Funny how he has an epiphany after his conviction. If he really felt remorse he probably wouldn't have gone to trial with it. Sorry folks you can feel sorry for him all you want. But he is a thug who used violence to extort money from someone. He isn't a victim. He is a predator who squandered whatever talent he has.

  • hopeful | March 15, 2011 6:06 AMReply

    This is sad. I really enjoyed Little Birds at sundance, and he gave a beautiful introduction about leaving violence behind now that he's been given the tools to express himself through film. He also spoke about how Little Birds is a love song to all of the strong women in his life (from his mom to Juno Temple.) I hope his promising career isn't derailed.