Tribeca Film Festival Focuses on Incarceration
NEW YORK (AP) — At a time when criminal justice reform has gained national attention and bipartisan support from even the leading candidates for president, a handful of documentaries at the Tribeca Film Festival are giving a close-up to the human cost of mass incarceration.
The films pursue the issue in numerous directions, from the conditions of solitary confinement to the difficult re-entry to society ex-convicts face. But they’re united in depicting a system that’s dehumanizing and destructive for all who enter it (STL Today).
“There’s a lot of talk about a change moment. There hasn’t been that much change,” says Kelly Duane de la Vega, co-director of “The Return.” ”We’re hoping that this film and the many, many others that are in this struggle together can catalyze on this moment” (STL Today).
“The Return,” also directed by Katie Galloway, movingly trails a pair of men released after California altered the harsh sentencing of its “three strikes” law. David Feig’s “Untouchable” delves into the distorted effects of Florida’s stringent sex offender laws (more than 800,000 are listed on the state’s sex offender registry). “Prison Dogs,” by Geeta Gandbhir and Perri Peltz, documents psychically damaged inmates finding healing by caring for puppies. For “Solitary,” Kristi Jacobson spent a year and half documenting a Virginia super max prison and the lives of inmates who spend 23 hours a day within a 10-foot by 8-ft. cell. There’s even a virtual reality exhibit at the festival that simulates the experience of solitary confinement (STL Today).
The films are filled with tender and tragic stories of people — many of them poor, many of them black men — who made mistakes at a young age and were locked away for questionably long terms. They are stories of debatable justice, but are more principally films about human dignity (STL Today).
An estimated 2.2 million Americans are behind bars, many times more than most industrialized democracies. Though crime has fallen drastically since its peak in 1991, the prison population has grown exponentially. The National Research Council found that the 2009 state and federal prison population was seven times what it was in 1973. Studies have found increased incarceration rates only slightly improve crime rates (STL Today).
Recently, criminal justice reform has emerged as a rare bipartisan issue. Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz has voiced support for easing mandatory minimum sentencing, as has Democratic candidate Hilary Clinton, who has written of an “incarceration generation.” Last year, President Barack Obama became the first sitting president to visit a federal prison (STL Today).
“The system is dehumanizing for all of us,” says Jacobson, whose film will later air on HBO. “But there is some hope. We’re at a particular moment in time where people who have been working on this issue for decades, just coming up against really well built brick walls, seem to be legitimately saying there is real progress and real reason to have hope.”
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