SHAKESPEARE BEHIND BARS is an unexpectedly delightful documentary
that follows the casting, rehearsal, and presentation of Shakespeare’s
play, The Tempest, by convicted felons inside Kentucky’s Luther
Luckett Correctional Complex. Winner of eight film festival awards,
SHAKESPEARE BEHIND BARS smashes many of our long held notions
about prisoners and criminals as we watch these remarkably unique
actors prepare. Ultimately, we get to see the human psyche unfold
in all of its complexities, as these men, ostracized from society,
reveal their kindness, generosity and faith. In the process, we accompany
them as they discover the power of truth, forgiveness and transformation.
“A remarkable, moving experience. Surprising
and satisfying. The film poses tough questions about the nature
of forgiveness [with] a generosity of spirit. “
-- James Greenberg, Hollywood Reporter
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 their roles in The
Tempest, a play fittingly about forgiveness.
Striking parallels arise between actor and inmate, the text and
their lives. On the surface level, the men rehearse 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 come
to terms and move forward.
SHAKESPEARE BEHIND BARS does not glorify these men or excuse
their crimes, but rather attempts to take a more humane look at
them as human beings, not merely felons. Over the course of the
year and the film, we see these men changed - enriched, challenged,
awakened, and fulfilled.
"Profoundly moving. Any minute of this
documentary packs more punch than the entirety of most triumph-of-the-human-spirit
-- Jan Stuart, Newsday
"Riveting. The timelessness and eternal
relevance of Shakespeare is once again proved in the most unlikely
of settings with the most unlikely of players. Truly moving."
-- David Noh, Film Journal
"Fascinationg. A one-of a-kind look at
a world most of us never have to deal with."
-- Jeffrey Lyons, NBC's Reel Talk
"**** Extraordinary. Thrilling to watch."
-- Ken Fox, TV Guide.com
"Powerful. Ingenious." --
Matt Singer, Village Voice
"Marvel at the transformative power of
art. Find freedom in performance and release in words."
-- Jeannette Catsoulis, New York Times
"Uplifting. Gives hope that forgiveness
and redemption are possible."
-- Jami Bernard, NY Daily News
Competition – Sundance Film Festival
Selection – Edinburgh Film Festival
Jury Prize – Independent Film Festival of Boston
Choice Award – Bluegrass Film Festival
of Show – Bend Film Festival
Award – Orinda Film Festival
Feature Film – River’s Edge Film Festival
Heart Winner – Heartland Film Festival
Documentary – Bethel Film Festival
Documentary – Ojai Film Festival
Night – Bethel Film Festival
Night – Williamstown Film Festival
Nashville Film Festival, Woodstock Film Festival, Aspen Film Festival,
Provincetown Film Festival, Maine Independent Film Festival, Tahoe
International Film Festival, Waterfront Film Festival, Leeds International
Released in association with Shout Factory!
A Philomath Films Production in association with the Independent
Television Service (ITVS) and the BBC.