Saturday, January 22, 2005

Shakespeare Behind Bars

★ ★ ★ One of the best parts of Sundance is seeing movies that you would otherwise almost certainly miss. Unless you’re a real art-house devotee, you probably don’t catch many documentaries. Only a handful get any recognizable distribution. Fortunately, Sundance has increased its commitment to documentaries in recent years.

Shakespeare Behind Bars is a powerful documentary about a dramatic production group at the Luther Luckett Correctional Complex in LaGrange, Kentucky. Every year a group of inmates present a Shakespearean play. Director Hank Rogerson and his crew follow the troupe as roles are self-selected, interpreted, rehearsed and ultimately performed.

The movie is filled with fascinating revelations for those of us that have not been exposed to prison environments. Despite the labels we know them by (convict, felon, murderer, etc.) we soon began to appreciate and respect these men as thinking feeling human beings. Serendipitously, the play chosen for the year of filming was The Tempest, with its penetrating focus on forgiveness and redemption. The actors all grapple with the relevance of the play to their lives, finding patterns and parallels with their characters and the meaning of the drama.

For a documentary film, like a book, the best that can be hoped for is that we experience something that changes our lives. Shakespeare Behind Bars was a personal revelation for me. “O brave new world, that has such creatures in it.”


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