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.

TheCultureShock.org - Organization Spotlight

TheCultureShock.org is a website run by Gabrielle A. Hill. The goal of TheCultureShock.org is to provide a “one-stop-shop” to equip high school students and young professionals with the basic knowledge needed to excel in common career environments and social situations.

It’s important to educate younger generations with information they may or may not be learning in schools. Read more about Gabrielle and her important mission in an interview below!


What is TheCultureShock.Org’s mission?

The goal of TheCultureShock.org is to provide a “one-stop-shop” to equip high school students and young professionals with the basic knowledge needed to excel in common career environments and social situations.  Additionally, TheCultureShock.org aims to promote wardrobe creativity, while minimizing financial barriers and still looking professional. This is done through the incorporation of items that were obtained by “thrifting”.

Why do you do what you do?

Simply put, we at thecultureshock.org want to "pay it forward" and give back information & resources that were given to us.

What is your background in this field?

When I created thecultureshock.org I was beginning my young professional career as an AmeriCorps Ohio College Guide. Since then, I have completed my Masters and am now a licensed school counselor (formerly known as "guidance counselor") at a local charter school.

What sets TheCultureShock.Org apart? 

We offer etiquette and soft skills resources in a relatable "near-peer" model. This way, the information is relevant because it's mostly coming from young professionals who are currently living and learning it.

What is the future of Culture Shock?

Thecultureshock.org has been a functioning website for about 3 years now, but we are expanding. I am excited as we will offer workshops, service opportunities & travel experiences as a non-profit organization in the near future.

 

What obstacles does Culture Shock face?

While we are a valuable resource, our intended audience is high school students and they aren't usually waiting at the end of their seats to learn what's next in career development. So we have to find creative ways to get the information to them. That's where the idea of the Cultural Immersion Workshops came from and we will continue to find innovative ways to get this information to the young people.

What made you want to start TheCultureShock.Org? How did you make it happen?

I wanted to be a resource because I was at an event at a nice venue for an event for my female students and I noticed that they were not appropriately dressed for "business professional." There was a range from homecoming attire to something I'd see people wear to church & neither of those styles were appropriate. There was also a plated lunch at this event and forget knowing what fork to use, the girls were putting on mascara and stacking up their plates with entrees from nearby place settings. It was then that I decided to team up with a colleague of mine to inform my students. It wasn't fair to talk about their behavior and then not equip them with the knowledge I thought they needed. So the idea of a blog turned into a website and now a website will turn into a non-profit, funny how things happen. 

I made it happen by using my resources (friends, students & colleagues) & figuring out how to use technology (i.e. create and update a website). I had a lot of help but ultimately I had and still do take responsibility to make sure that the site is running up to it's full potential, I can't wait to grow our team.

What do you want our generation to take from you?

Wow, that's a hard question. I guess that it's important to give back to others what was given to you, no matter if it's a word of advice or a word of correction in love, be willing to fight for your dreams, oh and it's ok to be nice! You don't have to be a push over but just be nice to people, it's good for the soul.

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!