Release date:March 10, 2006
Studio:International Film Circuit
"Shakespeare Behind Bars" is an unexpectedly delightful documentary that follows the casting, rehearsal, and presentation of Shakespeare's play, The Tempest, by convicted felons inside Kentucky's Luther Luckett Correctional Complex. Winner of eight film festival awards, "Shakespeare Behind Bars" smashes many of our long held notions about prisoners and criminals as we watch these remarkably unique actors prepare. Ultimately, we get to see the human psyche unfold in all of its complexities, as these men, ostracized from society, reveal their kindness, generosity and faith. In the process, we accompany them as they discover the power of truth, forgiveness and transformation. Marking their seventh year as an acting ensemble, the inmates cast themselves according to their lives, and in relation to the crimes for which they were convicted. Just as in Shakespeare's day, men play all the female roles. They swear that the roles "pick them", and this proves to be an uncanny truth, as many of the men experience powerful epiphanies while exploring their characters. Twice a week, the inmates work with volunteer director Curt Tofteland, who pushes them to find their own truth within their roles in The Tempest, a play fittingly about forgiveness. Striking parallels arise between actor and inmate, the text and their lives. On the surface level, the men rehearse with Tofteland, alone in their cells, or with each other on the yard. They experiment with different ways to deliver lines and gestures - how to change the meaning of a scene with one subtle stroke. On a deeper level, this constant searching within a character mirrors the constant search within the men themselves to find meaning in their past actions and present lives. The film shows men who are, in some ways, stuck in time, constantly replaying the text and gestures of their own crimes, wondering what subtle stroke would have changed their fate. But it also shows these men searching deeply to discover the reasons that they committed murder, rape, or robbery, and trying to come to terms and move forward. "Shakespeare Behind Bars" does not glorify these men or excuse their crimes, but rather attempts to take a more humane look at them as human beings, not merely felons. Over the course of the year and the film, we see these men changed - enriched, challenged, awakened, and fulfilled.