Beyond The Wall - Film Spotlight

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.

Dimonde Hale - Artist Spotlight

Dimonde Hale is a 25 year-old artist, living in Columbus, OH. His work, which includes paintings, graphic designs and video, is full of vibrancy and emotion. Below is an interview with Dimonde, as he touches on subjects of identity, place, and creativity.


How did you get into art?

I had a fascination for visual story telling. I've always had an interest in the stories and assumptions we make purely from visual evidence. The ways we assume whether someone is rich or poor, content or depressed, strong or weak, etc.. So my love of art stems from wanting to construct and manipulate those scenarios to tell a meaningful story. There is a power in our physical surroundings that can affect our mood directly. We like to think we have no control over it but we do. It's called architecture. It's called design. It's called art. I believe it's my purpose to be apart of that special group and share my stories and vision. 

How has your identity shaped your work? 

My identity has shaped my work and the direction of my art tremendously, but not in the ways people would assume. I’m a black male from inner city Columbus, Ohio. I went to public school and we didn’t have much money. That tells you so much about me, and nothing about me at the same time. I am so much more than where I come from and have been shaped by my experiences as an athlete, as an artist, as a student, as a son etc.. What’s truly shared between me and other black males (and other minorities) are the assumptions that are made about us. Much of my latest artwork aims to force people to see our humanity, our likeness, our emotions. 

What obstacles have you faced due to your identity?

The biggest obstacle I have faced due to my identity is self-confidence. Art is already a very entrepreneurial pursuit in its nature. When you are a business and a brand as an artist, you have to stand for something real, something tangible that people want to support. But when you are a minority or part of a historically disenfranchised group and your work reflects that, it can sometimes make people uncomfortable. As an artist and a minority, you are forced to decide to what degree your work reflects your belief and background. To what degree are you prepared to create something that offends? In my opinion art that doesn’t reflect true sentiments, no matter how offensive or unpopular they are, can be hollow and lacking authenticity. So I had to develop the confidence to say this is my style, this is my art, this is who I am and if you don’t like it, maybe my work isn’t for you. That’s hard to do when you want to sell art. You want everyone to like your art, but when you are of an unpopular or irrelative experience, it’s impossible. I had to learn to be okay with that. It’s more important to be true to yourself and your style. 

What fuels your creativity?

Nothing sparks my creativity more than being surrounded and fed by other passionate people. I believe we were all blessed with a need to create. When I see other people in their element and thriving in their craft, I naturally strive to be a better artist. It’s hard to be around someone who’s truly passionate and not catch the bug. I feel sorry for people who just float through life but aren’t really passionate about anything. A man who lacks passion or the drive to create either goes his entire life with a hole in his soul, or he latches on to another man’s creation and attempts to take credit for the fruits of someone else’s passion. I’ve seen it in action, and it’s sad. But in a nutshell, passion for positivity and creating encouraging environments has always fueled my creativity. 

What do you like about the Columbus art scene?

The Columbus art scene is incredible right now and it’s actually expanding. Most people know about the richness of the art here. There’s the Wexner Center, Columbus Art Museum, all the galleries in the Short North, and pockets of artists in Clintonville. What’s amazing about the art scene here is there is a niche for almost every kind of artist. We don’t only pay attention to painters, we have events and communities for fashion designers and poets and dancers. Our city has a very inclusive art community and there are never a lack of events. 

What advice do you have for other artists?

My advice to other artists is : get your work out and don’t be afraid to offend. I think we can be so focused on pleasing others with our work, that our work doesn’t please us. There are people everywhere that will appreciate what you do. They will find you and tell you to your face, but not if your art isn’t true and not unless you get it out there. Columbus is the perfect place to do it. 

Do you have any new work you'd like to showcase?

I have a new body of work called “Return to Royalty.” This is focused on people of color, but it’s meant to provide self-esteem, and encouragement for us to return to holding ourselves and each other to higher standards. Standards for the way we raise our families, choose our lovers, treat each other, the way we dress, how we spend our money as consumers, and how we acknowledge God. I create work that I would hang up myself. What my soul is hungry for lately is self-esteem. They serve as a daily reminder that we are being watched. There is a story on my skin and in my features whether I like it or not. My art is my attempt to dive deeper into that story and perhaps change the course of its negative points.

What do you want to accomplish with your work?

I want nothing more than for my work to be a confidence builder and expand people's perspective. I want art that people will hang to remind themselves that they are powerful. Remind people that they matter and what they once viewed as a weakness (their race, gender, sexuality, flaws, history) is in fact what makes them strong. I want my art to remind people of the cities and vistas they were born and bred in, and the influence it has had on them. Galleries need more work like that. Our streets, homes and businesses need more imagery like that. I hope to continue a movement of meaningful art that penetrates our personalities and our values. My work should be a power source on the wall, like a beautiful outlet that people can plug into with their eyes and be instantly energized. 

If I can accomplish that with my work, I will be doing what I was made to do. That's all anyone can ask of themselves.


To check out more of Dimonde's work - click below for his website!

Artists with Anxiety

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and we’d like to share with you a piece on artists who struggle with anxiety and depression while addressing mental health as a whole. By presenting these viewpoints, we hope to reduce the stigma surrounding these extremely common disorders. To borrow words from our friend Effie Morway, “Mental health disorders do not mean you are weak, stupid, crazy, or any other negative adjectives. They simply are a part of you, like any other physical condition or disease. 1 in 5 people suffer from a mental health condition, so you are not alone if you do.”

We were able to interview Anthony Codispoti, a photographer/filmmaker, Jordan Fehr, a sound designer/actor, and Amandda Tirey, a painter.  Their answers were never truly the same - anxiety affects everyone in different ways, but the connecting threads among the responses were that anxiety functions as a part of who they are as artists and it adds strength to their everyday lives.

When asked about how mental illness affects their creativity, each artist stated that the creative process was never the origin of their illness, but rather, their disorders generated difficulties when completing and presenting their work.

Fehr states, “But what it [anxiety] does do is take me out of the world and make me unable to then do my job when I have a bad episode.” While a bad episode for Fehr inhibits him from completing tasks, these episodes provide a piece of mind to help him work with artists who share the diagnosis, but present different symptoms. “Everyone has their own particular brand of terrible when it comes to anxiety/panic/depression, but that being said, it is a whole new side of the human condition that I didn't understand at all, so I am better able to empathize with other sufferers, and it is never a bad thing for an actor to have more knowledge.”  

In terms of external factors, Codispoti says, “I’m often working on sets with actors, models, or clients - this is when my anxiety can really take its effect. I always have a very clear vision and direction with my art, and if I'm feeling anxious while shooting or directing, it shows in the final product.” 

Anthony Codispoti

Anthony Codispoti

Jordan Fehr

Jordan Fehr

Amandda Tirey

Amandda Tirey


Tirey also struggles with the anxiety that surrounds casting the light on her art and herself, “It never gets in my way of making the art...just presenting and talking about it or myself as an artist to other people in large groups. The spotlight really makes me anxious the older I get! I'd love for my art and name to be known worldwide but my person to be anonymous.”

 

Fehr (right) acting onstage

Fehr (right) acting onstage

It’s not always easy to be open and honest about mental disorders, especially because in society, those who struggle with mental disorders are often labeled as “other.” Negative labels like these could potentially prevent those who suffer from opening up about their illnesses, making them feel like they are broken and alone. However, the artists agree that sharing their experiences and talking about mental health is crucial to improving how we, as a society, discuss and treat mental disorders.

By opening up, Tirey says that others will not feel isolated. “I believe it’s quite common with artists. You are showing the world your soul, and sometimes people can be cruel. It’s just hard to take when you are baring it all.” 

To Codispoti, opening up reduces the stigma on anxiety: “It'd make it less of the 'monster under the bed'. All kinds of people have and live with it every day. It doesn't need to be a big deal. We shouldn't let it become one.” On that note, Fehr adds, “People with anxiety and depression don't want to ask for help. The more people know about it, the more warning signs you can see in others, the more empathetic you can be even if you haven't experienced it yourself, and if the actual person suffering is more open to talking about it and asking for help, they will do better.”

One of Tirey's paintings

One of Tirey's paintings

Misconceptions play a huge role in how we talk about mental illness. Stereotypes and false information about mental disorders are frequently used in many discourses: “People throw around words like 'depression' and 'anxiety' to mean sadness and uneasiness all the time. But they don't realize that there are those of us for whom those words are actually a diagnosis. I was in the hospital and a doctor diagnosed me as having clinical anxiety and depression. Depression doesn't mean sadness to me. It is a crushing inability to enjoy anything. It is the absence of happiness. There is a HUGE difference between that and feeling sad,” Fehr says. Tirey adds, “Many people who don't have it will never understand it…a friend said to me recently- "I don't understand - you are so fun and carefree and relaxed until you have to speak in front of people - what happens?”

Earlier, it was discussed that an honest discussion about mental health is difficult, and this could partly lead to these misconceptions. Codispoti says, “I'd say people with anxiety don't like bringing attention to their anxiety. No one wants that to become a label. For that reason, it's not something that's focused on in the main stream, even when I'm sure there are plenty of influential people that struggle with it.” 

Fehr also touches upon another problem plaguing open discussion: ignorance.  “The other part of society's views on anxiety is that it in some way involves weakness. I have heard an adage that goes something like ‘crying isn't a sign of weakness, it is a sign that someone has been strong for too long’. You can't just chin up and get over serious clinical illness. People need different combinations of support systems, doctors, medication, and education. So telling someone to get over it, or man-up, or stop being sad or any of the litany of other things people say all come from a ignorance of what some people are really going through.”

A still from Codispoti's cinematography reel

A still from Codispoti's cinematography reel

There are many ways that people who suffer with mental illness learn to cope and live normal lives, despite what is going on in their brain. Some of these coping mechanisms are learned individually, in therapy, or from friends and family. On advice for others struggling with anxiety, Codispoti says “Listen to music, read a book, watch a movie, or go on a hike. Or maybe on the really intense days go on a hike to read a book while you listen to music. Focus on the things you love to do. Sometimes I need a few days to myself, away from people. That's not something everyone may always understand, but that's okay. You have to take care of yourself first, and only you can figure out how to do that. Especially in the times you have a lot going on.”

Fehr’s advice is more indirect and self-reflective: “I thought I was trying all the avenues available to me to controlling and coping with what was happening to me. But it turns out I wasn't. The stuff I was afraid to even consider making changes around were the things that had to do with my self-identity. For example, I have been working at home, alone, running my own business as a freelance sound designer for the better part of 8 years. I was afraid, deeply afraid of making any changes to something that I had worked nearly my entire adult life to build. It felt like failure. But what I have learned is that it is not black and white, nothing is 100% this or 100% that the more you engage with anxiety, the worse it can become. You have to reshape your thinking, distract it, or control it.”

Through their words, these artists are breaking the silence about mental health - what it means to them, what they want to see done about the stigmas, and the relief that comes from learning they are not alone. This discourse is generating a foundation for mental health awareness, and will hopefully be built upon in the days, months, and years to come. 


1 (800) 273-8255 is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

Find your local crisis center

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)

NAMI National 

NAMI of Ohio 

Find your local NAMI chapter