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SHAKESPEARE BEHIND BARS
USA: International Film Circuit
Cast: Curt Tofteland, Leonard, Sammie, Hal, Red, Big G
Director: Hank Rogerson
USA: 93 mins
USA Release Date: 10 March 2006 (Limited Release - New York)
SHAKESPEARE BEHIND BARS, a film by Hank Rogerson and Jilann Spitzmiller, follows an all-male Shakespeare company working behind bars at Kentucky's Luther Luckett Correctional Complex. For one year a cast comprised of convicted felons rehearse and perform a full production of Shakespeare's last play, The Tempest, a play fittingly about forgiveness.
Marking their seventh year as an acting ensemble, the inmates cast themselves according to their lives and in relation to the crimes for which they were convicted. Just as in Shakespeare's day, men play all the female roles. They swear that the roles "pick them", and this proves to be an uncanny truth, as many of the men experience powerful epiphanies while exploring their characters. Twice a week, the inmates work with volunteer director Curt Tofteland, who pushes them to find their own truth within each part.
In the film, the parallels between actor and inmate, text and life are striking. On the surface level, the men rehearse their parts with Tofteland, alone in their cells, or with each other on the yard. They experiment with different ways to deliver lines and gestures-how to change the meaning of a scene with one subtle stroke.
On a deeper level, this constant searching within a character mirrors the constant search within the men themselves to find meaning in their past actions and present lives. The film shows men who are, in some ways, stuck in time, constantly replaying the text and gestures of their own crimes, wondering what subtle stroke would have changed their fate. But it also shows these men searching deeply to discover the reasons that they committed murder, rape, or robbery, and trying to move forward in their lives. Ultimately, we watch the human psyche unfold in all of its complexities, as these men, ostracized from society, reveal their kindness, generosity and faith. In this process, we follow these men as they discover the power of truth, forgiveness and transformation.
SHAKESPEARE BEHIND BARS does not glorify these men or excuse their crimes, but rather attempts to take a more humane look at them, by shedding light on a program that costs the taxpayer nothing. Over the course of the year and the film, we see these men changed-enriched, challenged, awakened, and fulfilled. By following these men through this creative process, the film explores the universal themes of redemption, transformation and forgiveness. It raises questions for the viewer such as: Should we rehabilitate criminals? How does art transform the human conscience? Who deserves forgiveness? Because of the unlikely setting of prison, these themes and issues are given a fresh, new angle.