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Shakespeare Behind Bars
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  • Shakespeare and Self Knowledge
    Shakespeare Behind Bars is a fascinating look at how Shakespeare, even in, and particularly in, a prison setting can help us explore who we are. This is not a project whose only purpose is to "put on a show", but it's the process, not the product, which is invaluable. We see growing insight into each man's own humanity, self-revelation and understanding, and increased compassion for each other develop over the course of working on a play. Although we only see glimpses of the final product, we watch the intense emotional and intellectual involvement of each inmate. A very moving piece. The director of the play, who works closely with each actor/inmate, is to be commended for a very valuable look at what is possible....more info
  • Enlightening and Entertaining
    The movie gives you a better understanding of what it means to be in prison. Watching the changes in the actors (prisoners) through the documentary shows how drama may lead to rehabilitation. They are articulate about what got them there and are serious about their acting part in the drama. The movie is entertaining, thought provoking and extremely well-done. It is a must-have addition to your video library. You will want to watch it several times....more info
  • All The World's A Stage, Even In Prison--A Fascinating Look At The Influence Of Art
    Catching up on some documentaries that I missed, I was eager to check out "Shakespeare Behind Bars" which had been a big sensation on the film festival circuit a couple of years ago. Highlighting a program within Kentucky's Luther Luckett medium security prison, "Shakespeare" details the staging of Shakespeare's "The Tempest" by a small group of dedicated inmates. This is a program that has existed for many years at this particular prison (each year boasts a different Shakespearean play) and has had a surprising impact on those who have participated. From casting through performance, the film follows many months of rehearsals--but more important than the play itself is how the various inmates relate to the material and to the experience of performing.

    We meet a diverse group of convicts, and many share their personal history. With surprising candor and regret, in most cases, they are upfront about their crimes (up to and including murder). Most of the interviews are thoughtful, honest, and even insightful--these men take full responsibility for the actions which led them to be locked up. Using the Shakespeare Behind Bars program as rehabilitation, many have found a better understanding of themselves (and human nature) by exploring the themes inherent in the plays. One particular example comes from the inmate who is coerced into playing Miranda, the young female protagonist of "The Tempest." Initially resistant, it is fascinating to see him come to identify with Miranda--by fully understanding her, he is coming to terms with himself.

    But these men are criminals, too. And we see how parole hearings, transfers, and solitary confinement threaten to derail the production. But again, it's not so much about "The Tempest." Paraphrasing one inmate, he doesn't want to be remembered solely for the worst thing he's ever done. "Shakespeare" is an unorthodox program that actually seems to benefit its participants on a myriad of levels. Never less than captivating, this documentary provides a window into the human condition where you might be surprised to find yourself identifying with convicted murderers. Insightful, but not preachy, this matter-of-fact film can be surprisingly heartbreaking. KGHarris, 01/07....more info
  • All is not forgiven . . .
    This documentary is a remarkable achievement in itself, managing to capture the 9-month process of producing a full-length Shakespeare play behind bars, while revealing in depth many of the inmates who participate in the production. Assembled from hours of footage into a single, coherent narrative, the film challenges nearly every preconceived notion an audience might have about prisoners serving time for violent crimes - as well as the environment in which they spend the months and years of their sentences. And it shows again the power of the collaborative enterprise of drama in transforming and sustaining the lives of those who perform it, whether professional or amateur.

    Emotions run high in the film - and there are moments of comedy and humor - as the men allow us to see them almost as deeply as they see themselves, in a life-long process of recovering lost integrity, lost dignity, and lost identity. It is as though the magnitude of their crimes has forced them to confront themselves in ways that we in the audience have seldom if ever had to. Meanwhile, despite the increasing depth of self-knowledge, the great dilemma for them (and for us) is whether the crimes they have committed are finally forgivable. While their lives as inmates exhibit a kind of uncommon courage in the rebuilding of self-worth and character, their regret is that if they are remembered at all, it will be for the worst things they have done.

    For me, this was the message that came through most clearly in the film, and the prison production of "The Tempest" was only an interesting and fascinating pretext for taking us to the center of this ethical conundrum. That "The Tempest" is finally about forgiveness rather than retribution says much about how, in this case, art makes life livable. The DVD has about 30 minutes of deleted scenes, plus three separate commentaries by the filmmakers, the director of the play, and four of the inmate performers. Maybe not surprisingly, the inmates' commentaries are by far the most interesting. The film is served quite well by the musical score, as well....more info
  • Unexpected Pleasure
    I didn't expect Shakespeare Behind Bars to be as entertaining as it was. Not only is this fine documentary film a compelling argument on behalf of drama as a rehabilitative tool in prison, but it is also a welcome reminder of our universal foibles and potential for redemption. Shakespeare Behind Bars will change any preconceived notions you may have about criminals because these Shakespearian actors are as wise and perceptive and articulate as any actor on or off Broadway. Highly recommended....more info