Is there a particular documentary film or filmmaker that had a major influence on your career?
What motivated you to make your film?
I had been interested in looking at the massive issue of mass incarceration through a single story. What motivated me to make this film in particular was seeing firsthand the impact Liza had on the incarcerated men in that room and wanting to share it.
Please tell us what camera(s) you shot with primarily – and any other special equipment that you used and why you used it.
We shot on a Panasonic GH5 because it was my DP’s camera of choice at the time for the high-contrast look we were going for. We used drones to show how the massive acreage of Angola Prison and how isolated it is. We used GoPro camera’s on our vehicle to build out the coverage of us traveling across that acreage.
How did your story evolve from day one, to the very last day in post? Is your story what you thought it would be?
The day I went to shoot Liza Jessie Peterson at Angola, I wasn’t making this film. This film could not have been pre-planned. At the time I thought I was shooting performance footage for a film I might make about Liza’s work at some point in the future. But when Liza connected so deeply with the men and the authorities shut it down, it became evident that a film could be made specifically about the events of that day. But since they kept us from shooting the performance at the last minute, I struggled with how to describe an event we couldn’t shoot. When the incarcerated men started reaching out to Liza it became apparent that I could use their audio recordings to paint a picture of that day and a larger picture of Angola itself. Those recordings became the basis for the animation which helped the viewer actually experience the day. Because of the unconventional nature of how this story had to be told (due to a myriad of limitations), I wasn’t always sure how the final film would play. But I knew it would be powerful because I trusted the story itself.
Please describe the most rewarding experience you had while making this film.
Amplifying Liza’s work which I had been admiring for years and also our phone conversations with the incarcerated men. Hearing the impact she had on them both emotionally and politically (very real-world results followed) was a powerful testament to the power of art to impact people.
What advice can you give to other impact filmmakers?
LISTEN to whatever person or whatever world you point the camera at and allow yourself to be shifted. If nothing surprises you, listen again.
What’s your favorite part about the filmmaking process and why?
The creative collaborations, relationships, and that state of flow that can come while creating.
What’s the one item you always take with you when working out in the field and why?
A ring my father gave me that belonged to my grandfather. I come from a family of artists and creatives. I don’t always wear the ring but I wear it on set to remind me that whatever I’m doing started way before me.
Please share a personal story about your experience making this film.
I couldn’t be more proud of the work of the animators in this film. Everyone comments on how great it is. But it was a process. Since my animators weren’t present that day, early versions of the prison audience had them looking like college students. Most of the men in Angola are serving long sentences and are over 40. My constant refrain to the animators, whenever they showed me a pass was “add twenty pounds and twenty years”. I’m sure they were hearing that phrase in their sleep.
What do you want audiences to take away from your film?
I want us as a society to be intolerant of an industry whose massive profits are incentivized by human suffering. I want audiences to see the big business of prison through Liza’s eyes.
Please list key points that should be covered in a post-screening discussion:
The massive impact of Liza’s appearance that day
Please provide information on any recent developments regarding the issue or subjects of the film. How have things changed or not changed?
We could have never foreseen the impact Liza’s visit would have on those men and only learned of it a few months ago when we screened in Louisiana. We were told that not only did she “activate” the men of Angola, but she politicized them. Norris Henderson (who appears in the film) and his organization VOTE were able to harness the energy of that day to encourage the men to organize their families outside of prison to vote. As a result of their efforts, 2 judges, 1 sheriff, and a more progressive DA were elected. Because of these elections, in the last two years over 300 men had their cases reviewed and were released from Angola. Typically 1-3 men would be released in that time. Norris attributes his ability to orchestrate this directly to Liza’s visit to Angola. He had the system in place, but she provided the spark. I am MOST proud of having a film that depicts the events of a day that changed that many lives.
What opportunities are available for those interested in getting further involved?
Become educated about mass incarceration and share what you know. Share how this film affected you in your circles of influence. And support these organizations-
Art for Justice https://artforjusticefund.org
End the Exception https://endtheexception.com
Please provide any additional resources (websites, links to additional videos, forms, articles, etc.):
Cinque and Liza
BBC TALKING MOVIES
Cinque and Liza
Cinque and Liza (a lot on the impact here)
Laura Flanders Liza and Norris (more on the impact)
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