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  • Inmate Arisleida Duarte and others receive their diplomas at Rikers Island.

    Inmate Arisleida Duarte and others receive their diplomas at Rikers Island. | Photo: Reuters

Published 23 April 2017

Women made 30-second selfie videos introducing themselves to one another and providing notes to the high school students who helped create the short.

The Tribeca Film Festival in New York, known for its selection of independent films including documentaries, narrative features and shorts will show a narrative short that will allow a rare glimpse into the lives of Rikers' Island women inmates.

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The 9-minute documentary titled, "More Than A Woman," is a mosaic of personal stories aimed at challenging the negative stereotypes of the incarcerated by telling the real, raw stories of the inmates inside the Rose M. Singer Center, nicknamed Rosie. In early 2016, young inmates participated in a free-writing exercise where they wrote about perseverance in response to a Nelson Mandela quote. Their writings were trimmed down to two sentences, written down on index cards, shuffled and pieced together to form a narrative.

As part of the process, women made 30-second selfie videos introducing themselves to one another and providing notes to the high school students who helped create the documentary. Since the camera equipment wasn't allowed inside the facility, the students filmed outside of the jail and the content was then shared with the inmates on hard drives.

According to Flonia Telegrafi, a teaching artist with the Tribeca Film Institute and also one of the mentors at the Rikers Island Media Lab, "If a scene wasn't shot right, then that message would go back to the outside and they would do it over."

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Telegrafi told NBC, "You're always taught to see things as black or white, or right or wrong. So it's really important for art, and specifically for filmmaking — through that do-over process to have these young women understand that it's not always about that."

The film is made in partnership with the Educational Services Unit of the NYC Department of Correction and a program run by the TFI and is a collaboration between the Young Women's Leadership School in Queens, New York and the incarcerated women from the Rikers Island Media Lab who spent a year writing and then producing a visual poem.

The media lab was created four years ago with the intent of shedding light on the lives of the incarcerated women at the facility and breaking the negative stereotypes attached to incarceration. Sheila Taveras, a participant, released from Rikers, told NBC, "Just because we made a mistake in our life doesn't mean that defines us. We have so much to offer in the world. We're not useless or anything."

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