The First Step

In a divided America, Van Jones attempts to bring people together to pass a landmark criminal justice bill — and finds himself under fire from all sides.

2021 | Running Time: 89 minutes | Rating: NR

In 2016, as the progressive left prepares to fight newly elected President Donald Trump on every front, a presidential adviser makes a surprise announcement. Jared Kushner — whose father once served time in federal prison — wants to pursue criminal justice reform as a major Trump administration priority.

This unexpected development creates a dilemma for TV host Van Jones — who has worked for 25 years to fix the criminal justice system.

Should he refuse to associate with the Trump administration? Or help free unjustly imprisoned people — but, in the process, possibly bolster an administration whose policies he otherwise bitterly opposes?

Jones makes his choice. Van and his team set out to help pass landmark legislation that would fix some broken aspects of the justice system — and bring thousands of incarcerated people home early. Simultaneously, Jones mobilizes community leaders in rural West Virginia and urban South LA to fight together for humane treatment — not incarceration — for communities devastated by addiction.

While trying to pass a bipartisan bill through a polarized Congress, Jones is condemned by the right for his progressive beliefs — and by the left for working with conservatives. The film reveals an intimate portrait of an activist’s isolation and internal struggles as he fights to make change in a divided nation, and everyday people in both political parties drawn into a historic fight for freedom and justice.Director: Brandon Kramer; Producer: Lance Kramer


— Matt Fagerholm,

Best Documentary Feature – Oxford Film Festival, 2022

Best Documentary Feature – Bozeman International Film Festival, 2021

Audience Choice – Best Documentary Feature – Boston GLOBEDOCS, 2021