Friday, June 29, 2007

Silverdocs: Hard Road Home

Hard Road Home
Later on Friday I went to Hard Road Home, the third in my self-selected, uninterrupted prison film series, and the fourth of my Silverdocs 2007 adventure. While waiting outside to finish a soda perusing the Now Showing posters, I witnessed a harrowing scene. At first I thought it was a post-one-night-stand drama unfolding on the sidewalk. I heard a woman say, “I feel like I’ll never see you again, but I want you to take this anyway.” Then I saw the woman trying to force her business card on what I can only assume was a filmmaker as he gruffly tried to lose her by walking as fast as he could. Having witnessed a similar post-screening frenzy after Miss Gulag, I have come to the conclusion that one should not attempt to foist one’s business card upon a filmmaker at a festival unless you’re offering a distribution deal for this film or a grant for the next film. Has someone already coined the phrase “90 minute stand”?
In line for the film there were, perhaps not shockingly, more African-Americans in attendance than at any of the previous screenings I’d attended. I also noticed more Asian-Americans, a broader range of ages, and more male fashion victims than at previous screenings. In front of me in line a double date shared hot dogs from the concessions. The enormous cup holders in Theater 3 beg to filled. The director sits on the stairs and complains that the muzak playing before his film is too loud and inappropriate. It is ghastly. But is being a diva really the answer?

The film opens with audio of sirens over the visual of a city street. Griffik tells the camera what he did that landed him in prison. He was released three months ago. Though he speaks English, his words are subtitled.I have no idea what this means, but in my notes I wrote, “Hip Hop to Exodus.” Whatever it means, I love it. It might mean the audio is load hip hop music as the visual is the exterior of Exodus, the organization which is the subject of this film. But that sort of ruins the poetry, doesn’t it.Anyway, Julio, the head of Exodus, says their goal is to make sure no one goes back to prison. Exodus is run by former inmates. We know what it takes to succeed. Hip hop music plays over the title sequence.We might not be in “society” - not in prison, not Exodus staff member’s son in prison, on drugs, not dead.Griffik talks to one of the staff at Exodus. He does not have his parole officer’s telephone number. The staff member tells him he needs to keep that with him at all times. He wrote his parole officer’s telephone number on his birth certificate.During a group session with others recently released from prison, another young man like Griffik expresses his resistance to fitting into society. He blames oppressive cops and racism.A former inmate says, “I voted last year for the first time. I’m a free man.”Griffik tries to get a job. He says, “If you allow me to manipulate you, that’s your fault.”Julio worries about funding because they’re in the last year of a federal contract.When a parole officer tells a former inmate they have to do something, like attend anger management classes, or stay home after 9:00 p.m., they use the word “mandated.” Like “My P.O. mandated me to anger management classes.”Julio says people are redemptive.The films shows Julio (or is it the Exodus staff member who looks like Julio, Alberto?) having car trouble and marriage trouble. Alberto has been missing for four days. He is off the wagon. He left his family. The pacing seems slow because between various segments lots of long shots of the city are edited in, possibly showing the geographic transition from one segment to another. The filmmakers is showing the transitions in a film about transitions. Julio says to Griffik, “These cameras are going to stop rolling and that’s when your movie really begins.” Cut to black.

Q & A with the director and Julio

The film is going to be shown on PBS’s Independent Lens next year. The film is tied to two grassroots policy campaigns. On is a public/private partnership dedicated to implementing re-entry best practices. Another is a faith-based group Auburn Media.The contract Exodus was losing that led to their financial concerns was a federal faith-based contract that ended last August. You can make a donation at . To measure success Exodus uses six life area benchmarks. The overall goal is reducing recidivism. Alberto plead guilty and was sentenced to 12 years to life for burglary.Exodus staff built trust before the cameras arrived. The cameras were there for a year so we wanted to show real challenges. It takes the entire staff to make a change in one person’s life.Griffik is working and in school.Many current staff members came through the Exodus program for their re-entry prior to working there. There is no time limit. Their doors are always open.A person in the audience asked whether Exodus went into prisons to begin pre-release programming with inmates six months prior to their release. Julio responded that New York state is challenging and Exodus doesn’t have the resources.The director explained that he selected the topic because he was looking for personal stories to illustrate the issue of transition. He learned about Julio as in individual success story and the challenges of re-entry faced by newly released inmates. Julio and the staff at Exodus were also so different from the burned out, unimpassioned government caseworkers who cannot identify with their clients because a prerequisite of working for the government is that you haven’t done prison time. His goal with the film was to galvanize viewers to promote better policy and to lift up the humanity of this population.

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