A Holistic Approach to Storytelling
From a yoga class in San Quentin to a comprehensive impact campaign supporting justice impacted families and individuals.
In 2007, participants in my yoga class at San Quentin State Prison approached me to tell their story. With my own experience as a crime survivor and justice impacted family member they felt I could facilitate an insider’s perspective. Ten years later, the film is praised by both the community at large, justice impacted individuals, family members and loved ones.
Apple of Discord Productions’ (AODP) was started with a small team to create a feature length documentary LIFE AFTER LIFE with a specific focus to humanize men, women, and children caught in the prison system while reframing the public perception in favor of much needed reform.
Early in the process of making the film it was clear that in order to tell a story that was personal and transformative both for the participants and the viewers it was going to take time, likely years. At the same time, the dialogue needed to start now. Thus began the 10 year journey of making the film. We embraced work-in-progress screenings as a place for feedback and early partnership engagement. One of the first of these screenings and discussion took place at Google in 2009. A 30-minute work in progress was uploaded to YouTube and streamed as part of their TechTalk series. Continuing along this unconventional route, I shared clips to invite potential partners and communities. We then screened the work-in-progress at community groups and national conferences, from Harvard’s Houston Institute for Race and Justice Conference on Inclusion and Stanford’s Perspectives on Race and Incarceration, the ACLU and public health convening, community discussions in schools and churches. These partnerships and discussions played a strong early role using LIFE AFTER LIFE as a tool and resource to inspire and support movements that have led to a transformation in parole in California. Thousands of men and women who were serving life sentences were released and in turn entered programs and movements supporting a more holistic approach to justice impacted individuals and families.
It was clear from its inception that LIFE AFTER LIFE was not a traditional film, and was not likely to take a traditional route upon completion and distribution. In 2017, we, along with the participants in the film, Harrison and Noel, went back to our partners to find our audience. This had always been a film by and for justice-impacted people. It was also a means to facilitate a comprehensive conversation around mass incarceration. A conversation from the humanization of all those impacted and stigmatized by incarceration. One thing was clear was that my voice had to work as a facilitator and the participants had to lead the conversation and engagement. That began the next phase, now a completed documentary, we continued on our nontraditional path using the film as a resource and a tool for criminal justice reform with everyone impacted by the justice system at the table. We led with a family approach. From the participants I learned that their families became the center of all their lives in and outside of prison — the community, the brothers and sisters still behind bars.
“Fresh, contemporary, and engaging… [Life after Life] presents extraordinary stories of men finding hope and success under impossible circumstances.” - Ken Burns,
Two-Time Oscar Nominated Documentary Filmmaker
In 10 years the justice reform movement had grown but mass incarceration also grew. I had to continue with this non-traditional approach because we were creating dialogue and directing people to action and legislation. We also implemented a traditional strategy applying to festivals around the world. To be quiet honest I had given up as we were denied by most top festivals. It really forced me to articulate the uniqueness of LIFE AFTER LIFE. After so many years we were one big family. A team from crew to participants to producers to partners — all from justice impacted families or directly impacted by the justice system. My team encouraged me to continue both routes and we entered our first festival the Justice Film Festival in Los Angeles in 2017. We screened in 7 festivals around the world and continue to receive invitations. My lesson here is that it is no longer a landscaper of either grassroots or festivals. You can do both and you should. Your can not let your project collect dust on a shelf.
Bringing our community into the fold, we worked within our holistic and inclusionary framework creating healing circles, family oriented screenings, and a comprehensive conversation that included partners from the local, grassroots, national, legislative, municipalities, faith-based and advocacy groups to create aligned action for criminal justice reform. One year in, the film has had 30+ screenings, panels, and healing circles and the movement has reached over 6000 people in 13 states and counting including California, Florida, Michigan, New York, Texas, and more. These inclusive gatherings bring justice impacted communities, individuals, and family members together with those who may believe they are not impacted and allow a space for dialogue that promotes understanding, healing, and action.
Our national community continues to expand through academic and engagement partners such as Alliance for Higher Education in Prison, Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC), Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice (CURYJ), Positive Youth Justice Initiative, the Schools Not Prisons Initiative, Safe and Just Michigan, along with universities, schools, community, faith and advocacy agencies. ACLU Florida and The National Parks Service of California.
The struggle raising funds for engagement still remains. We are constantly grant writing and trying to weigh the administrative costs to put on a screening or attend a film festival and include justice impacted folks in the conversation. I was also hoarding influential endorsements and reviews of the film on my computer. My impact producer was like can we post those everywhere like right now?! And that not only showed the world that were celebrated by known activists, scholars, educators, and justice impacted people but it gave me motivation and remind me that this film was a key piece to the larger reform movement. After some great feedback from a few documentary veterans, we realized we really need to shift focus to packaging for educational outreach and distribution. We spent time to revamp or website, poster, and social pages to clearly show our engagement and outreach. We’ve created a post screening viewing guide, an educational curriculum, and offer educational licenses. Our goal now is to reach schools, educators, juvenile detentions and youth based communities through screenings and healing circles. Our biggest dream to realize is screening LAL in every prison in the US.
I wouldn’t have gotten here without an holistic approach to filmmaking. As a social issue based documentarian I wanted to approach the process from my lens and background in therapy, yoga, art, and social action. I approached everything is this fashion dumping expert interviews and focusing on the personal narratives of the participants. Each contributed to the footage with personal diary cams which honed in on the intimate and the family that would have been honestly just not the same narrative with my crew filming and me asking questions. As we edited I chose more verite and narrative. I let the other films do the explaining. Our holistic approach led to how we currently approach our engagement and how we continue to extend the life of the film. I try to stay open and continue to challenge my expectations of how I see the film being screened. The community has many times dictated what works best for them and they are always right! I remain facilitator. The film is making the rounds. We listen as grassroots organizations and national campaigns tell us how it can better serve.
My newest film, THE WAITING LIST, employs the same holistic framework as we look at the role of bias, specifically gender, race, and class discrimination and disenfranchisement on child care in the US.
Criminal Justice Reform Impact
By taking a practical approach to criminal justice reform, we can decrease crime, enhance public safety, and make more responsible use of our resources.
- Eliminating mandatory minimum sentences and cutting back on excessively lengthy sentences (for example, by imposing a 20-year maximum on prison terms);
- Investing in interventions that promote strong youth development and respond to delinquency in age-appropriate and evidence-based ways;
- Examining and addressing the policies and practices, conscious or not, that contribute to racial inequity at every stage of the justice system;
- Removing barriers that make it harder for individuals with criminal records to turn their lives around; and
- Understanding and addressing harmful structural disparities that create the school to prison pipeline, disproportionately affecting communities of color;
- Shifting resources to community-based prevention and treatment for substance abuse;
- Specifically shift resources to community organizations with the experience, understanding, and relationships to focus on healing.
Contact Tamara Perkins for more information about her projects at email@example.com.
LIFE AFTER LIFE is distributed by Passion River.
For more information on hosting a screening or making an educational purchase check out lifeafterlifemovie.com
LIFE AFTR LIFE is fiscally sponsored by SFFILM.