Logline: Locked away in an American prison’s solitary confinement unit, an inmate fights to stay human while forced to endure the compounding psychological effects of long-term isolation.
Length: 16 minutes, 39 seconds
Director: Derek J. Pastuszek
Producer: Cédric Gamelin, Fabrizio Muscia, Halee Bernard
Writer: Derek J. Pastuszek
Born in Philadelphia, educated in Boston, now based in Los Angeles, writer-director Derek J. Pastuszek holds both a BS in Film & Television and a BA in English Literature (from Boston University, 2012) – and an MFA from the AFI Conservatory (2015). Recently, his work -- most notably, his feature, HERLAND, and pilot, THE PROPHET -- found success in many top-tier industry awards, while his film, [solitary], is screening worldwide on the festival circuit. He’s currently in post-production for his next short, ISLANDER; developing a TV series/pilot script, THE BURN; with plans to direct HERLAND as his first feature film.
Producer Cédric Gamelin recently earned an MFA from the American Film Institute (AFI), after receiving an MBA in Finance and Strategic Management in California, and a BA degree in Marketing and International business with a focus on Entrepreneurship from ESSEC Paris. Gamelin has a special interest in Social Issues and Worldwide Cultures. Currently, Gamelin is developing a narrative TV series about the Erasmus Programme.
Fabrizio Carlo Muscia is a Film & TV producer, who has, from an early age, been immersed in the world of entertainment. He had his first on-set experiences with Mario Monicelli's television mini-series, "Come Quando Fuori Piove", broadcast on the Italian National Television’s Channel RAI 1, and the Frazzi brothers’ international theatrical drama, "The Sky is Falling". Now, after his time at AFI, Fabrizio works on both sides of the Atlantic -- on the development and production of feature films, documentaries, and TV series.
Halee Bernard is an LA based producer from New Braunfels, TX. She completed her MFA at the American Film Institute Conservatory in2015 where she was the recipient of the Robert Mandel Scholarship. Currently, Halee is the assistant to Chad Hamilton, a manager at Anonymous Content and producer of the Golden Globe winning TV show MR. ROBOT. She is also developing writer-director Arkasha Stevenson's feature film CROWNS.
Key cast: Starring Kofi Bamfo as ‘The Inmate’ (lead);
With Mark Solz as ‘Mental Health Official’ (supporting)
Looking for (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists): All of the above (more on this below).
Funders: This film was funded primarily by family and friends of the filmmakers – with its $12,000 budget raised entirely via Kickstarter (in June-July of 2014). We also received support from a number of other supporters who discovered the project on Kickstarter after the site named our page a ‘Kickstarter Staff Pick.’
Made in association with: Our film is a student film that was made by Fellows at the American Film Institute Conservatory in Los Angeles, CA. We are all now recent graduates of the two-year MFA program, from AFI’s Class of 2015.
Release date: Our film’s World Premiere was at this year’s Vail Film Festival -- in Vail, Colorado, USA – on April 8 2016.
Awards: Winner of the student film competition at this year's Cine Gear Expo Film Series, held in Los Angeles, at Paramount Studios, June 2016.
Congratulations! Why did you make your film?
'The SHU.' 'The Hole.' 'The Box.' 'Flat Time.' 'The Monster Factory.'
Solitary confinement, or 'Administrative Segregation,' is the nationwide prison practice of relocating inmates -- deemed a security risk for any number of reasons (some solid, some suspect, many unknown) -- from general population facilities to high-security 'Special Housing Units,' isolating them in sparse single-person cells -- many without windows, clocks, or books inside. Just you and the coarse walls and the cold floor and the stale air. Just you. Only you.
Consensus figures claim that up to 100,000 inmates are currently held in ‘restrictive housing’ in prisons across the United States. In these well- hidden facilities, men, women, even juveniles spend 23+ hrs/day without any human contact – serving sentences ranging from days to decades to lifespans -- somehow expected to maintain a sense of peace while kept in captivity like beasts; asked to reach reform and rehabilitation in a savagely designed system that begets only the erosion of the mind and spirit. It is undeniably torture.
In prisons both public and private, we keep our poor, desperate, and/or mentally ill -- most of whom are people of color -- in the subterranean shadows, without proper medical and/or mental care, without any supportive system aimed toward rehabilitation, in an archaic, caustic environment. We imprison the angry and make them angrier -- we make the lost only more lost. Depriving our own of the respect, dignity, and humanity promised to us all.
In our happy little world up here where the sun shines and the birds sing, we think nothing of this growing problem in our society's bowels. Because up here, we can't see their fading eyes -- we can't hear their broken screams - - we can't smell the shit splayed on the cell walls. But soon, we will face the shadow-side. When the time comes for these inmates to be released -- as the majority of those in solitary are serving non-life sentences -- we'll have to wake up.
I set out to make this film with the hopes of shining a light into the shadows; to provide a voice for the voiceless. I've had family members (most notably, my cousin) go through the hell of solitary, only to be chewed up and spat out by the American prison system. And after our lead actor, Kofi Bamfo, revealed his own personal connection with the story, we knew we had our man.
Throughout the process, we've also worked closely with various organizations -- including the ACLU and SolitaryWatch -- who connected us to many ex-cons with stories to tell from 'the hole.' If anything, I hope this film can take a stand for them -- people who've never had anyone take a stand on their behalf.
As a young artist who'd been gifted a relatively cushy upbringing, I saw the chance to utilize my voice and vision to tell a story that could both challenge and inspire -- polarize and unite -- paralyze and provoke an audience. For me, there's nothing greater than creating art that sparks an important conversation.
I end with some words from Dostoyevsky:'The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.’
Imagine I’m a member of the audience. Why should I watch this film?
Though this film is quite dark and, at times, very difficult to watch, we feel that it’s important for people to understand what is happening in our world, what is hidden from us in the shadows, that is, frankly, a major human rights issue with some devastating effects on our society, top to bottom.
We hope our story can illuminate some hard truths about how our prisons have become corrupt and depraved – and how broken the system is -- all by immersing the audience in the environment of solitary confinement, experiencing the psychological degradation alongside our inmate, feeling the helplessness and hopelessness that so many of our fellow humans are subjected to.
Yes, it is a challenging film – yes, it is difficult to watch – but it is important to understand the gravity of this issue. Every antidote has a tiny bit of poison in it – that’s how we learn and grow and heal.
How do personal and universal themes work in your film?
Ultimately, this film is exploring the most personal and universal theme of all: what it means to be human. Or, in other words, what it means to have to fight, to endure, in order to preserve your humanity in a world that seems to be designed to erode your humanity slowly, day by day, month by month, year by year. It’s a story told through absence – about how we all need each other in order to preserve our most basic sense of humanity – of dignity, of purpose, of love, of everything we all need to stay human.
We’re fragile, we’re vulnerable, we’re flawed, we’re afraid – and we’re all, in some ways, alone. Stuck in our own minds, with our own untameable thoughts, struggling to forge ahead with our humanity intact. Through this film about one man’s decaying self while isolated in a cold, concrete prison cell, we learn about our own human condition – through the specific, we gain insight into the universal.
How have the script and film evolved over the course of their development and production?
Both the script and the film have gone through many changes, many iterations of this story. The biggest challenge in telling this story was the question of how to immerse the audience in the world of nothingness – of boredom, of mind-numbing emptiness, and so on – but still keeping everyone engaged and emotional throughout the film. It’s difficult to make a film focused on the concept of ‘nothing’ – the concept of a void – because films, by nature, should be engaging on many levels.
We ultimately sought to create a balance in the art – to use our cinematic tools to emulate what is going on inside the inmate’s head – to pull the audience as deep inside the inmate as we could, so that the audience would always be feeling and experiencing the psychological journey alongside the inmate. The stronger the connection between the audience and inmate is, the stronger the emotional impact of each scene, of the full fill, will be.
Every change and development in the film was driven by this. In addition, this story, from its very first iterations, was completely dependent on creating a rich and detailed world of sound in the film. So much of this story is told through sound – it isn’t just an atmosphere – it’s a character, in ways, evolving unconsciously but deliberately throughout the film. Not only did we have to create the world of the prison cell – but we also had to create another world sonically, one that operates on many levels.
The film evolved greatly as we worked on the sound more and more, relying on it to help tell this story in the best ways possible while still seeking to remain entirely invisible, or unconscious, to audiences.
What type of feedback have you received so far?
We’ve been lucky enough to screen at a number of festivals and competitions so far – Vail Film Festival, The Cine Gear Expo Film Competition, and so on – and we are humbled by the responses from audiences about the emotional quality and overall power of the film. The film has resonated with people who have seen it, and everything from the cinematography to the editing to the great performance by Kofi Bamfo, our lead, has been received quite well.
Has the feedback surprised or challenged your point of view?
The most moving piece of feedback we received was from a man who was held in solitary confinement for many years while he served a sentence in prison – an experience nearly identical to what we portray for our inmate in the film. He shared his own experience with us, while complimenting our work on the film – saying it was both artful and authentic.
He even said his heart started racing as the film went on, starting to remember and feel what he went through when he was in prison. ‘It took me back there,’ he told us. He thanked us for making this film and said, ‘It’s about damn time people are forced to face this issue.’ For us, as filmmakers, this is what we’d hoped this story would do – after this, we knew we had something true, something real.
Who do you need to come on board (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists) to amplify this film’s message?
First and foremost, we are looking for people who can help us share the film with as many others, as large of an audience, as possible. We are currently in the midst of a successful festival run, and any help reaching more festivals would be lovely. But we are also looking ahead – at where this film could end up, who could continue sharing it with the world, after the festival run.
We really believe this film should be seen by as many as possible – and whoever can help us extend its reach would be invaluable to us. Journalists, especially – as this film takes on a very topical social issue in the United States (and worldwide), examining our country’s prison practices, in both public/state-run and private sectors, as well as its growing prison-industrial complex, disproportionately affecting people of color and other minorities.
Beyond our festival run -- with which we would love some help, of course -- we see this film’s potential to have significant social impact, so we would love to find the right people/venues to send the film and hopefully continue sharing it with the largest possible audience – in theaters, online, etc. This is the kind of film that people should and will discuss – and we hope it can be seen by many.
What type of impact and/or reception would you like this film to have?
Of course, we hope the film is received well by audiences – and we hope it can impact people in a powerful, positive way. After our premiere at the Vail Film Festival, one audience member told us that he almost walked out during the screening, because the film was so difficult to watch, but he didn’t – and he was so glad he stayed until the end. That’s the kind of reception we hope to have – that, ultimately, there’s a purpose and a goodness behind the dark nature of the film.
Above all else, we hope this film can generate some important discussions for people – and perhaps push people to become more aware and active about the lesser-known issues in our society. The beauty of art -- of storytelling, specifically -- is that it transfers a message, or a purpose, or at least a question, to the beholder/the audience. This is what we hope for.
What’s a key question that will help spark a debate or begin a conversation about this film?
After seeing the film, a lot of people have asked us why we do not reveal anything about the inmate’s identity or, more importantly, what he did to get himself in prison and solitary confinement. ‘What did he do?’ or ‘Why is he in prison in the first place?’ People often ask. To me, it doesn’t matter what he did – no human, no matter what he or she has done, should have to endure this experience, as it only worsens the mental and physical state of everyone who faces it. It only makes things worse – for inmates, for prisons, for our society. All in all, this question seems to start a pretty fruitful conversation.
What are the key creatives developing or working on now?
The writer/director, Derek J. Pastuszek, is building a career in both feature films and television. His TV pilot script, THE BURN, co-written with AFI friend and collaborator Andy Siara, has a producer attached and will be sent out to major networks and studios this summer. In addition, Pastuszek is currently putting a team together and trying to secure funding to make his first feature film – most likely from his award-winning script, HERLAND, which was selected as his official thesis script, completing his studies in the MFA program at AFI. Thematically similar to [solitary], HERLAND is another film featuring a character who’s isolated, on all levels, from the rest of the world, also told in a fused literary and cinematic style – however, it explores a very different setting: the vast Canadian wilderness. The logline for HERLAND:
An emotionally overburdened woman ventures into the savage British Columbia wild to hunt ‘The White God’ — the mythical white bull moose that drove her dying father mad — all while awakening her own fiery spirit within.
Where and when can I watch the film at Dances With Films?
[solitary] screens at Dances with Films as a part of the Competition Shorts, Group 5, program – on Sunday, June 5, at 5:00pm, in the TCL Chinese Theatres (Hollywood, CA).
Other upcoming screenings elsewhere:
- [solitary] next screens as a part of the Narrative Short Competition at the Greenwich International Film Festival, held in Greenwich, CT, USA, between June 9-12. The film screens on Thursday, June 9, at 3:30pm, as well as on Sunday, June 12, at 5:00pm. (Link with more info.)
- Beyond this, [solitary] has been submitted to a large number of film festivals worldwide – and you can follow the film through its facebook page, facebook.com/SOLITARYfilm.
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