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Hidden Lives Illuminated

Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site debuts its latest project, Hidden Lives Illuminated, on August 15, 2019.

The month-long project features nightly screenings of newly commissioned, animated short films created by artists incarcerated at the Pennsylvania State Correctional Institution at Chester and Philadelphia's Riverside Correctional Facility for Women.

Using a concert-grade digital projector, films are screened onto a 20-by-30-foot area of Eastern State's façade three times each night, August 15 through September 12, 2019. A total of 20 original short films, shown throughout the month, offer a rare look inside America's correctional system—conceived, narrated and animated by incarcerated people. Screenings are free and open to the public, and content is appropriate for people of all ages. The event is held each night, rain or shine.

hidden-lives-illuminated-web-19995Richard Patterson | CAPTION: Hidden Lives Illuminated; Guest instructor Lowell Boston teaches student filmmakers zoetrope animation during classes at the Pennsylvania State Correctional Institution at Chester.

Screenings last approximately 40 minutes and occur three times nightly, starting at 7 p.m., 8 p.m., and 9 p.m. The screenings are grouped into four themed weeks: "The View from Inside," "Criminal Justice Today," "Family and Community Impact" and "Restorative Justice." During a given week, groups could see roughly five original short films touching on that week's theme. Additional guest films, all created by filmmakers close to the criminal justice system or communities affected by high incarceration rates, round out the nightly screenings.

In conjunction with each screening are programs featuring presentations by scholars, community leaders, activists, artists, victims' advocates and elected officials. Hands-on activities provide groups a chance to reflect on the films and discuss social and criminal justice issues. Program activities include art-making, letter-writing, lightning talks from leaders in criminal justice reform, restorative justice, reentry, and more.

hidden-lives-illuminated-web-19996Tom Bernard | CAPTION: Nighttime Façade

The project culminates in a one-night festival on September 12, during which all 20 original films are screened, back to back. A documentary film about the artists, created by Media in Neighborhoods Group (MING), will play inside the historic site's cellblocks.

"Eastern State Penitentiary is committed to deepening the conversation about criminal justice reform in the United States. With Hidden Lives Illuminated, we can structure these conversations around the literal voices of men and women living inside prisons today," said Sean Kelley, senior vice president and project lead.

"Prisons are some of the most inaccessible spaces in America. After all, prison walls don't just keep incarcerated people in, they keep the public out. We want to use our wall to illuminate the lives of people living inside these institutions that are so often misunderstood, or worse, ignored."

hidden-lives-illuminated-web-19997Richard Patterson | CAPTION: Hidden Lives Illuminated; Ezra watches his animation sequence play in a zoetrope cylinder during classes at the Pennsylvania State Correctional Institution at Chester.

Hidden Lives Illuminated has been in development for three years. Teaching artists employed by Eastern State Penitentiary have been leading classes in storytelling, screenwriting, narration and animation inside Pennsylvania correctional institutions since summer 2018. The project was inspired by Freedom/Time, a project orchestrated by artist Damon Locks and developed with the Jane Addams Hull House and Prison + Neighborhood Arts Project. Freedom/Time was presented by the 96 Acres Project in Chicago, September 15, 2015.

For more information, visit Hidden Lives Illuminated.

Courtesy of Groups Today.

Main photo courtesy of Living Condition, LLC | CAPTION: Artist's rendering of Hidden Lives Illuminated using still image from "Last Day of Freedom," directed by Dee Hibbert-Jones and Nomi Talisman.


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