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,
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.