Slamdance: the Debriefing
March 15, 2001

Prisons for Profit? The notion was as surprising to filmmaker Ashley Hunt as it may be to you. His documentary Corrections (which premiered at the Slamdance Film Festival) explores the reality of this for-profit phenomena in the US, revived from the days just after slavery. In this week's editorial, Hunt reflects on his Slamdance experience: lessons learned, the PR process, and the perpetual search for coffee.

Could you describe your film, Corrections?

Corrections is a feature length documentary about today's "private prison." This is a prison owned by a corporation and run for-profit, like a business; and prisoners are "leased" to them by the state, in order to avoid having to avoid building new prisons themselves.

Today, different types of laws have given the USA the biggest prison system in the world, larger than all of Western Europe's even: drug laws, anti-gang laws (which are a type of racial profiling), low-level property offenses and nonviolent offenses that now lead to serious prison time. The push for them began during the Civil Rights movements of the 1960's and 70's, when the disenfranchised around the world were seizing the power they'd deserved for generations, and those in power were threatened by this. Today's system maintains those same systems of inequity, only by a different name, under the banner of "law and order."

It is in this context that private prisons began -- as our prisons then started pushing past their capacity and voters stopped wanting to pay for new prisons. Venture capitalists (who were often friends of a governor or legislator) seeking "growth markets" offered to alleviate this burden on legislatures by building new prisons and running them for a profit.

Corrections deals with the history of this history, and strings together short snapshots of different places around the US where they build, profit, or suffer from private prisons and over-incarceration.

What inspired you to make it?

Corrections was inspired by a New York Times article three summers ago, about a private juvenile prison in Louisiana, where there had been documented human rights violations -- almost all of it which could be linked to profit saving. I thought this was something very important to expose more broadly, and could serve as an important way to help citizens think of how the state and large corporations profit off us in ways that aren't always monetary, either. Prisons -- public or private -- aren't just about profit, they're control.

Why did you choose to submit to Slamdance?

I chose to submit Corrections at Slamdance because it was a high profile festival where this subject-matter could get out there where it needs to be in the public, and also because they are a more respectable festival than most, where "independent filmmaking" isn't a studio genre or a stepping stone, but is about the integrity of makers who chose to work outside the system because there's more creative freedom there. The studio system restricts not only how things look, but also what gets said, how it gets said and who gets to hear it. I think for some people it's an ethical thing to chose to work outside that system and luckily, Slamdance is a place where that's respected.

What did the acceptance mean for you logistically?

First it meant we had to finish this film very quickly! So I went out to LA where my producer is, we got a place to finish our editing and make up press materials, a web site and all, all the stuff we'd have had to do anyway but now we to do it faster. We got some pro-bono PR advise from friends and luckily had a bunch of friends coming out to Park City and were more than happy to help out.

What was your experience like at Slamdance?

It was very positive, we got great crowds, some good reviews and feedback, and I met a bunch of interesting filmmakers and artists who were also there -- that was probably one of the best parts, it was good company.

Can you describe a typical festival day?

Get up in the morning in our overheated, under food-stocked condo and try to find some coffee. This took up the first six or seven hours of the day. Then we'd head up to the festival, pass out flyers and meet people, eat soup, and try to catch as many films as we could. Then at night we'd usually go to some ridiculous party and get bombarded by party sponsor paraphernalia ... silly stuff, like an Evian-water spray mister bottle, a prepaid beeper (like anyone visiting Park City would need a "beeper!"), keychains, etc...

What were your goals for the festival?

The goals were to have it shown, see how people reacted, and see what kind of interest there was. Hopefully we'll be able to follow up on what we got.

What advice would you give a filmmaker heading into such an important fest?

Be on top of things, have it all together so when you get there, you can really concentrate on what you need to -- meeting people and spreading the word about your film or video, and enjoying yourself, I think that's really important.

What's next for you as a filmmaker?

I'm developing a documentary project with a community in Mississippi, as well as working on script.

Ashley Hunt did his undergraduate studies at the University of California at Irvine and his graduate work at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. His work has been shown at the Los Angeles Center for Photographic Studies, the Terra Museum of American Art in Chicago, the International Art Expo in Germany and the Bandits-Images Film and Video Film Festival in Bourges, France. He lives in Brooklyn and hobbies include playing with other people's dogs (until he gets his own), playing musical instruments and having conversations with people.






Ashley Hunt and brother Christian Hunt

Director Ashley Hunt with brother Christian Hunt, Camera and Assistant Editor


Ashley Hunt

Shooting in Birmingham, Alabama