Cinematic Essay on the Effects of Mass Incarceration
Outside Prison Walls
(San Francisco, CA) — In the United States there are 2.2 million people in prison, up from only 300,000 forty years ago, yet for most Americans, prisons have never felt more distant or more out of sight. A cinematic journey through a series of seemingly ordinary American landscapes, The Prison in Twelve Landscapes excavates the hidden world of the modern prison system and explores lives outside the gates affected by prisons. Produced and directed by Brett Story, the film premieres on Independent Lens Monday, May 8, 2017, 10:00-11:00 PM ET (check local listings) on PBS.
By examining the impact of mass incarceration from outside the prison walls, the film takes us to unexpected locations, from an impoverished Kentucky coal mining town looking to a new federal prison as a much-needed source of employment, to a Bronx warehouse where an entrepreneurial former prisoner sells regulation-approved care packages for inmates, to Marin County, where female prisoners battle raging wildfires. The film visits two communities – Baltimore and St. Louis County, Missouri – bristling from racially motivated violence and rising tensions between African American communities and police, where we meet a Missouri woman who ends up in jail because she didn’t put her garbage bin lid on properly. And in New York, we meet a formerly incarcerated chess player and join family members on a dark street corner waiting for the bus to Attica.
Filmmaker Story’s intent was to use film to examine “a system that has become so commonplace that we don’t even see it anymore, let alone question its purpose. My hope is to make the prison a subject of reinvigorated debate, by suggesting that it operates not just as a building ‘over there,’ but as a structure of power braided deeply into the relationships, economies and landscapes all around us. The film attempts to pose new questions about the work that prisons do in our society and whether that work is necessary or desirable. For when we start to examine the prison system from the spaces all around us, we begin to see how much more it has to do with jobs, with resource extraction, with economic development, with race and with poverty than it does necessarily with crime.”
“There have been many recent documentaries about mass incarceration yet Brett captures new insight into the American prison story,” said Lois Vossen, Independent Lens Executive Producer. “Living in northern California, I never knew that female prisoners are among our most reliable wildfire fighters, or the rate at which we put people in prison for transgressions as small as not attaching their garbage can lid. These gemlike stories show 21st century American incarceration — from the outside in.”
Visit The Prison in Twelve Landscapes page on Independent Lens, which features more information about the film. The film will be available for online viewing on the site beginning
About the Filmmaker
Brett Story (Producer/Director) is a writer and independent nonfiction filmmaker based out of Toronto and New York. Her films have screened at True/False, Oberhausen, Hot Docs, the Viennale, and Dok Leipzig, among other festivals. Her first feature-length film, the award-winning Land of Destiny (2010), screened internationally and was broadcast on both Canadian and American television. Her second feature documentary, The Prison in Twelve Landscapes (2016) was awarded the Special Jury Prize for Canadian Feature Documentary at Hot Docs, the Prize for Best Canadian Documentary at the DOXA Documentary Festival, and a Special Jury Mention at the Camden International Film Festival. Her journalism and film criticism have appeared in such outlets as CBC Radio and The Nation. She is currently completing The Prison Out of Place, a book manuscript for the University of California Press. Story holds a PhD in geography from the University of Toronto and is currently a postdoctoral research fellow at the Center for Place, Culture and Politics at the City University of New York Graduate Center. She was the recipient of the Documentary Organization of Canada Institute’s 2014 New Visions Award and the 2016 Governor General’s Gold Medal from the University of Toronto for academic excellence. She is a 2016-2017 Sundance Institute Art of Nonfiction Fellow.
Producer/Director Brett Story
Director of Photography Maya Bankovic
Editor Avrïl Jacobson
Associate Producer Lori Chodos
Composer Olivier Alary
Sound Design Simon Gervais
Sound Recordist Ian Reynolds
About Independent Lens
Independent Lens is an Emmy® Award-winning weekly series airing on PBS Monday nights at 10:00 PM. The acclaimed series, with Lois Vossen as executive producer, features documentaries united by the creative freedom, artistic achievement, and unflinching visions of independent filmmakers. Presented by ITVS, the series is funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people, with additional funding from PBS, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Wyncote Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. For more visit pbs.org/independentlens. Join the conversation: facebook.com/independentlens and on Twitter @IndependentLens.