SONS AND DAUGHTERS OF THE INCARCERATED
Sons and Daughters of the Incarcerated (a working title) is a story that explores parental incarceration through the eyes of three boys - Tre, Maison and Dasan. Following their interweaving trajectories through boyhood marked by the criminal justice system, and told directly through the child's perspective, the film unveils the challenges of growing up and what it means to become a man in America.
Hilarious, heartbreaking, uplifting and ending with tremendous hope, Tre, Maison and Dasan’s lives are stories of growing up, struggle, loss, empathy, positivity, resilience and unconditional love.
Dasan is a serious, tender and imaginative young boy who loves to spend part time being Spiderman. He is an only child, but has grown up with his 9 year old cousin, Alivia. Dasan believes that for the past two years his mom was at a “special school for grownups”. Aside from missing her, his childhood innocence and the half-truths about her whereabouts have protected him from taking on any outward emotional symptoms of his circumstances. He has questions, though - “Mommy, is your room small, like a jail cell? Do you have a TV in your room? Do you have to go to bed early? ” His mom was released in May and struggles to keep her secret through routine house visits by her Parole Officer and knowledge of her incarceration in the community. Finally deciding it was time, she tells Dasan the truth. “But why mommy? Why did you do it?” Dasan asks. Dasan is unconditionally loving, and he responds to her honesty with lots of questions and a long hug. But this truth has opened up conversation for other truths - the whereabouts of his father who has never been a part of his life, and the family feud that led to his mother’s arrest.
Tre is a sensitive, funny, and charismatic teenager who loves deeply. Conscious of the shadow of his father’s street reputation, Tre explores his identity as a bi-racial, soon-to-be-man in a community burdened with poverty, violence and addiction. Within his family, in his school system, and to the cops on the street, Tre says has been called a “problem child” with “disabilities”, and his least favorite - a “little punk.” As his behavior grows more defiant, Tre decides that he doesn’t want to visit his incarcerated father anymore. Shortly after his 15th birthday, his mom passes away from an overdose and he is sent to live in a group home. As Tre desperately grasps for anything within his control, his Godfather steps up and offers to become his foster parent. A strict and intelligent black man, Dwayne speaks Tre’s language and stresses the importance of keeping Tre close to home and in school. Dazed in the company of this new mentor, and rebellious under the attention, Tre is forced to face both a different image of manhood, and high expectations to fufill his potential.
Maison describes himself as “probably one of the smartest kids” in his class. He is an incredibly intelligent, hilarious and inventive boy who loves analyzing cartoons and reviewing video games. He is unashamed of his Asperger’s, which presents itself through his constant talking, skipping and encyclopedic mind. His father has been in prison since Maison was a year old, but they have built a deep relationship through phone calls three times a day and visits three times a week. His mother left when he was a baby to go live in California so Maison has been raised by his Grandmother, "Nana". He pretends not to mind that his mom spends most of the time with her friends when she visits. She has often promised him that when he turns 12, he would come live with her. While a younger Maison was excited at the opportunity to live with his mom, as the end of 6th grade approaches, he is starting to say he doesn’t want to leave. Moving to California would mean uprooting not only his life, but also his relationship with his dad.
THE PROCESS // Artistic Statement
Sons and Daughters of the Incarcerated is film, an exploration, and an opportunity to cultivate knowledge and understanding of a large, complex system from a new perspective. Beyond the film as an entertaining and educational product, Sons and Daughters of the Incarcerated will look towards the film as an act of research and archiving. Sharing the perspective of Tre, Maison and Dasan - affected fundamentally, but indirectly, by the criminal justice system - we will study and report on the problem of mass-incarceration.
Working closely and hands-on with Tre, Maison and Dasan, Sons and Daughters of the Incarcerated will be an immersion into how they see themselves, how that is affected by the way they are seen by the systems they live within, and their individual potentials to break the barriers and confinement of stigma and generational trauma to succeed in their own ways. It is important to us that “success” is defined more critically in American society, and for that reason this is not a Homeless-to-Harvard story. Not until children like Tre, Maison and Dasan can see and understand themselves to be important and necessary in the fabric of America, can we be comfortable with the world we expect them to grow into.
At the core of this film is the philosophy that children have the agency to tell their own stories. Therefore, they can and should be actively involved in the creation of the film itself. Formally, the film has been created in a mode of open and true cinema verite - evocative of the father of verite, Jean Rouch. Through this study, the film is not a “fly on the wall” observational documentary (though many scenes feel this way), but rather is built within an engaged process with the characters themselves. In working with children, the film is a huge and significant part of their lives. They are fascinated by the equipment, their roles in the “movie” and their relationships to the filmmaker.
Within this practice, the most critical part of the artistic process is the collaboration from the kids. To Maison, being part of a movie is the most exciting thing that has ever happened. “Guys, when this movie is finished... can you keep filming me?”, he asked on the way home one day. He has helped us brainstorm new titles, design posters, and has come to several events to share his excitement with audiences. After Dasan watched the film’s teaser he asked, “Who are those other kids? I didn’t know there were other kids with parents where my mom was...” This was an incredible moment for us, many kids do not know that they are not alone, and this film will be an access point for children to share their stories and connect with one another. When we did a Kickstarter campaign for the film in it’s early stages, I was surprised at the number of $1 contributions. I realized that Tre had been giving the link out to all of his friends and people in his community to support the film about “me and my dad”. The boys’ investment in the project and it’s success is paramount to the intimacy, the integrity and the heart of the film.
As we edit, the children will have the chance to participate, to view footage and interact with our new editing staff. They will continue to shape the film, as we shape the tale of the last two years of their lives into a story our audience will connect with.
THE ISSUE // Why now?
Although a bi-partisan, national conversation around incarceration in American has been raging, the population of children affected by their parent’s incarceration has remained largely ignored. As “law and order” policies are once again promised by a new administration, the voices of children must be an instrumental component of the conversation moving forward. Beyond generational incarceration, parental incarceration is at the core of many issues including child poverty, high school drop out rates, drug abuse and others at the forefront of youth-issues in America. Sons and Daughters of the Incarcerated will be a critical immersion into how these separate systems interact within the lives of Tre, Maison and Dasan.
One in fourteen children have or have had a parent in prison. They represent the future of our country, the lasting affects of our vast incarceration system, and a chance to break a seemingly endless cycle of racism and imprisonment. Often we tell stories about children through a top down perspective, influenced by what we (adults) “know” about their psychology and how their lives will unfold. Children are critical thinkers and feelers, innocent to the boxes that society will eventually force them to conform to - race, gender, mental health, and socio-economic status. There is a desperate need for a film, and a practice, that allows the children to speak for themselves, and fully represents the experience for others living with an incarcerated parent.
Director | Producer
Denali was named one of 110 “filmmakers to watch” by Variety Magazine in 2015. Her thesis film at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) has received notable praise, including being shortlisted for the BAFTA Student Film Awards was featured on Rhode Island PBS. As an educator, Denali has taught youth ages 7-18 in art and media and is currently an adjunct faculty as RISD. Denali has also worked as a research assistant, developing new forms of narrative research into complex systems with the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and New York University. Denali has a unique ability for empathy with particular interest in children and youth advocacy. Sons and Daughters of the Incarcerated is an extension of her thesis film and her feature film making debut.
Rebecca has worked extensively in documentary producing, impact marketing and distribution. She was the Associate Producer on the bomb, an innovative installation and film experience which premiered as the Closing Night Event of the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival and worked as the Production Coordinator for Academy Award nominated documentary Cartel Land, which premiered at Sundance 2015. She has also managed the development and implementation of film campaigns with the leading impact firm, Picture Motion, including Food Chains (2016 BritDoc Impact Award), The Yes Men are Revolting and Newburgh Sting. Before Picture Motion, she worked as Campaign Coordinator for the film Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare working closely with award-winning filmmaking team Matthew Heineman (Cartel Land) and Susan Froemke (Grey Gardens). Rebecca lives and works in Brooklyn, NY.
Andrew is a filmmaker, writer, artist, and teacher who has worked in feature films, documentary, and television for over 15 years. He co-produced and was director of photography on I Learn America, a feature documentary set in a New York City high school for new immigrants, which went on to a world premiere at AFIDocs in 2013, and has been screened at dozens of festivals around the world. The lm was also selected by the US State Department for its American Film Showcase, and by the New York City Dept of Education, which developed a viewing guide and now distributes the film to every school in New York City.
Carlos has been working in documentaries since 2008, when he assisted in The Reckoning, a film detailing the work of the International Criminal Court. In 2009 he was additional editor for Abused: The Postville Raid, a film about a community of undocumented Guatemalan immigrants in Iowa and their fight for labor rights after one of the largest immigration raids in US history. Carlos was also assistant editor in Reportero, Kingdom of Shadows, Miss Sharon Jones! and Sembene! In addition to documentary work, Carlos worked as first assistant editor in several animated feature films at Blue Sky Studios. He is an alumnus of the Sundance Documentary Edit and Story Lab as a contributing editor in 2013 and 2016. He studied Latin American Studies and economics at Wesleyan University and also has a Master’s in Media Studies from The New School in New York City. While at the New School, Carlos spent time in Rio de Janeiro training young photographers in the city’s favelas in camera work, story development, and editing. He speaks Spanish and Portuguese, loves to travel, and lives in New York.
PROJECT STAGE // Audience Engagement
Sons and Daughters of the Incarcerated is currently in the edit, with a planned festival premiere in Spring, 2018.
Once the film is complete, our most important audience to engage is middle and high-school aged children. Tre, Maison and Dasan represent 5 million kids across the United States dealing with various levels of stigmatization due to the imprisonment of a parent. By sharing the lives and experiences of these three boys, we want to encourage children across the country to feel empowered and supported in sharing their own experiences with parental incarceration. We will be working with our distributors and organizational partners to connect with schools and community centers across the country - with a focus on places with high statistics around incarceration and poverty. We are also working closely with our non-profit partners to build a targeted marketing and social media campaign that will help kids find the film online or through VOD and connect with each other.
On the other side of our outreach, we want to be sure we are connecting to those that control the stakes for many of the kids handling parental incarceration, to ensure that we are also promoting and creating safe and engaged spaces for these kids to find support and share their own experiences. In these cases, the film will be partnered with curriculum and discussion guides, as well as successful examples of support implementation. Some of these other key audiences for Sons and Daughters of the Incarcerated will include educators, prison communities and administrators, police and law enforcement, psychologists and social workers, and local and federal child and family services groups.
Through the project's outreach and life, Sons and Daughters of the Incarcerated seeks to:
- Build a network between children who have or have had parents in prison.
- Promote face-to-face visitation programs and parenting initiatives in Prisons nationally
- Educate schools to be better equipped to support and acknowledge students who have parents in prison - break the stigma that those children reflect poorly on the schools because of their parent's incarceration.
- Provide insights into the system of mass incarceration and other systems that intersect with these children’s lives.