Our friends over at Northern Light Productions teamed up to tackle the challenging issue of reentry in the Massachusetts prison system. The feature-length documentary just entered the film festival circuit.
We were privileged enough to see the film - it’s an extremely compelling piece. The narrative is woven through stories from five formerly incarcerated men, and through individuals looking to prevent these men from returning to prison. The men in the film face many hardships including job placement, financial issues, drug problems, and familial disputes. Below is an interview with the film’s director - Bestor Cram.
I never once thought you were glamorizing or taking advantage of your subjects - how were you able to effectively do that as a director?
This is all about trust and to a certain extent, accountability. Between both filmmaker and film subject. Access is the goal and low profile is the production approach. Both are enabled when we trust one another with telling a story and trusting that the story is authentic as well as represented in an authentic style. I sacrificed production value by being a one man band most of the time. But as long as the audio was more than acceptable, I was willing to not always have the prettiest of pictures. Frankly the style was somewhat designed to represent the raw subject matter but mostly to make the making of the film not something that was directed on location but rather was enabled by being witness to the moment.
What is the timeframe of the project?
This project was shot over a four year period and including the initial process of getting cooperation from the Middlesex Sheriffs office to the final post process, it was a 6-year project.
What is your background with the criminal justice system?
No background for me. My co-producer/director Jenny Phillips is a clinical therapist and has worked with inmates in the past.
How did you get in contact with your subjects?
Started with one of the folks Jenny was counseling who was going through an inmate reentry program. From following Jesus’ release, we met the rest of the folks, mostly through the mentorship that Louis Diaz was providing through his street counseling.
What is your intention with the documentary?
I choose subject matter to fill a gap of public awareness. The general public has a sense of what puts people in jail and what life in jail is all about. But most of us are unwilling to get involved with folks once they come out of jail and return to the communities as citizens with a record. We wanted to make a doc that opened up a conversation about post incarcerated life.
Did you cut anything from the final product that you wish was still in the piece?
There are additional characters that we filmed that would have added to the complexity of the human experience. But it would have made a film that would be too long.
What inspires you about documentary filmmaking?
I am interested in finding inspiration in dealing with big issues by understanding the stories of people's lives that help illuminate obstacles and triumphs in our daily lives. Makes me want to be more engaged.
While filming, what struggles did you run into?
Having enough time to be patient as a moment was revealing itself. So much of life unfolds slowly and without drama; it is the space of time that helps us see that change does occur. But it takes a long time to observe.
What do you hope comes out of your work on this piece?
An awareness that many folks coming out of prison face the same issues that got them into prison in the first place. For folks to be successful in their re-entry, they need to have a variety of services and treatment programs that help with employment, addiction, mental health, housing, etc. From awareness comes empathy, not uniformed judgement, and from that approach to understanding social ills we become more capable of enacting social responsibility.