Imprisoned Films Review- The Peace on Earth Film Festival 2017

The 2017 Peace on Earth Film Festival (POEFF) ran from March 10-12 at The Music Box Theater, 3733N. Southport, screening films with the stated purpose of “Raising awareness of peace, non-violence and an eco-balanced world.”

Nick Angotti, Co-Founder and Executive Director, POEFF, commented that “Beyond the Wall” was “gut-wrenching”.  In his opening remarks, visibly moved, he praised all of the filmmakers for their courage. He stated, “We want people to gather and dialogue and share the knowledge that peace is possible”.

 

Nick Angotti, Co-Founder and Executive Director, The Peace On Earth Film Festival

Several of the films, including the Winner of Best Feature Documentary, “Beyond the Wall”, focused attention on the lives of former prisoners.  This reviewer saw two very different such movies, “Weeds”, and “The Gathering”; summaries of these films follow.

“Weeds”, starring Nick Nolte, Rita Taggert and William Forsythe, was directed by John D. Hancock, and beautifully scored in part by Melissa Etheridge. Released in 1987, it runs 115 minutes and was shot partially on location in the maximum-security prison in Stateville, Illinois. It tells the largely improbable tale of a prison inmate for life who writes a play, gets paroled through the efforts of a smitten journalist, and leads a group of also-sprung inmates who eventually dance and sing their way into the hearts of theater goers and inmates at other prisons. The shows they produce are initially plagiarized and later center on the raw truths of prison life. The film includes a performance-induced riot. While it was an entertaining Hollywood-esque romp, and the Q and A afterwards revealed the dedication to realism of the filmmakers and inclusion in the shooting of real inmates, there was little believable in this movie.

From "Beyond The Wall"

The film that won the Best Feature Documentary Award, unseen by this reviewer, was “Beyond the Wall”, 2016, created by Jenny Phillip, Bester Cram and Andrew Kukura.  This is a 75- minute feature film that documented the personal stories of 5 formerly incarcerated men who attempt to build new lives on the outside. The central character, one Louie Diaz, works with each of the others to maintain sobriety and remain free. The film is a treatment on the pain and hardship involved in trying to create a future when one is “condemned by the past”.

 “The Gathering”, 2016, is a 24 minute short documentary written and directed by Micki Dickoff, a filmmaker whose entire career has been devoted to social justice, and particularly, to the travail of death penalty exonerees. It tells the painful and graphic stories of members of “Witness to Innocence”, the largest organization of the formerly condemned existing in America. Some of these individuals have spent decades awaiting execution on death row for crimes they did not commit.

Poster for "The Gathering"

The film is remarkable for the strength and warmth demonstrated- both in the compelling interactions between the members of the group and in the intimate look it gives us of their need for each others’ help to attempt to cling to a sense of meaning in life.

The quality of the cinematography-and obviously, the deep trust these individuals placed in Dickoff in granting her access to their valiant heartbreak- make for a film which leaves a very strong impression on the viewer. The ethnically diverse group of 16 individuals who have narrowly escaped the clutches of death but who nonetheless have suffered ignominy and unspeakable torment, coupled with the extent of their commitment to each other and to restore equity in the criminal justice system, speaks volumes about the resilience of the human spirit.

Members of "Witness to Innocence", the subject of "The Gathering"; photo courtesy of Micki Dickoff

This reviewer had the opportunity to speak to director Dickoff, a passionate advocate, during and after POEFF 2017.  This long-time director, writer and producer of social justice films explained how her life has become bound up in helping the innocent doomed to death by an unjust legal system.  Dickoff becomes understandably emotional when discussing how the double tragedy of a childhood friend, Sonia Jacobs, and that friend’s husband, both of whom were locked up on Florida’s death row, launched her on a journey, to redeem their lives and those of other innocents similarly afflicted. Out of Sonia’s travail- her husband was executed, but she was exonerated- and out of Dickoff’s devotion to the cause came the film “In the Blink of an Eye”, 1996, an ABC Movie of the Week in which Veronica Hamel plays Dickoff and Mimi Rogers plays Sonia Jacobs.

Micki Dickoff directing "The Gathering"; photo courtesy of Micki Dickoff

Dickoff is an example of the type of dedicated filmmaker whose works are shown in the POEFF each year, people whose inimitable bravery was lauded by Nick Angotti, who change the lives of others through their work behind the cameras, if not behind the scenes.

 

Go to the The Peace on Earth Film Festival website for more information.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all photos courtesy of POEFF 2017 

 

 

 

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