Friday Night Film Series Presents: ‘The Prison in Twelve Landscapes’

On Monday, Oct. 3, students and faculty gathered in Golden Auditorium to watch award-winning filmmaker and writer Brett Story’s 2016 documentary, “The Prison in Twelve Landscapes.” Based in Toronto, Story has held fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the Sundance Documentary Institute, and in 2019, was named one of Variety’s 10 Documentary Filmmakers to Watch. Story is the filmmaker for this year’s First Annual Paulette Douglas Filmmaker-in-Residence, sponsored by Earl D. (Woody) Freiman ’77 in memory of his wife, Paulette Douglas. The residency allows filmmakers to share their work with Colgate students and faculty, as well as providing them with a space to continue creating media projects. 

The documentary takes viewers to 12 different locations across the United States to explore the often obscured details about life outside of prison for formerly incarcerated people. In the Bronx, a former prisoner sells specific goods that are authorized for inmate use in the New York State correctional system. In St. Louis County, racially motivated aggression towards Black people in the community is evident when a Black woman goes to jail for three days for an open garbage bin lid. In Washington Square Park, Manhattan, a formerly-incarcerated man shares the chess skills that he perfected in prison to motivate others, give them confidence and earn a living.

The documentary takes aspects of everyday life and connects them to the current prison system and its hidden implications for society and incarcerated people. Associate Professor of Film & Media Studies and Women’s Studies Mary Simonson introduced the film to students and faculty. She spoke about Story’s exploration of prison as distant from public discourse, and noted the mass amounts of people incarcerated in the modern day. 

“More people are in prison in the U.S. right now than any other place in history or geography,” Simonson said. “We have the privilege of not having to see much about what that looks like or what that experience feels like for people. We have the privilege of ignoring it.”

Sophomore Andrew Bonnani gave his perspective on the documentary following the film. He acknowledged how the film highlights the often neglected features of the prison system that are not discussed in day-to-day life.

“The film showed intriguing nuances into what the prison system really perpetuates in our modern-day society. It allows the viewer to observe the lives of how previous and current prisoners move on with their lives and the circumstances they’ve been dealt,” Bonnani explained.

Sophomore Kellie Couch talked about the hidden stylistic details of the film, and how they contributed to the viewers’ emotional response to the message of the documentary.

“The most interesting part of the film was that she was able to capture moments that were not planned but fit perfectly with the meaning of the documentary,” Couch said. “It amazed me how when filmmakers are open to any and all opportunities [while] filming they are able to catch special moments like these.” 

Brett Story will return to Colgate in the spring for continued engagement with Film and Media Studies students, faculty and the wider Colgate community. Upcoming events and screenings can be found on the Colgate Film & Media Studies website.