Making a difference – one documentary at a time
April 3, 2014
Every once in a while a story resonates with readers — for whatever the reason — so much so that I hear about it, a lot.
The most recent example is a double feature of films put together by KVMR's Cheri Snook, highlighting the important role art plays in dire and harsh conditions — more specifically, in German concentration camps and behind bars at Folsom State Prison. Granted the subject matter is enough to warrant notice.
At 7 p.m. Friday, "At Night I Fly" will screen one last time, along with an 8:45 "Beyond The Barbed Wire."
"Beyond The Barbed Wire: An Artist's View of the Holocaust" examines how creativity energizes and heals those who are suffering. In Buchenwald, Terezin and Auschwitz, some prisoners created art as a means to escape and express what could not be spoken. This moment allowed them to connect with their individual identities, in a place of cold, numeric regulation and dehumanization. Some of the works still exist, hidden in the corners of cell blocks and barracks. Through the words, dreams and paintings of Ben Altman, a survivor of five concentration camps in what was then Nazi-Germany occupied Poland, a lifetime of memories pour forth, according to the documentary film's synopsis.
As Altman survived in Hitler's camps by making soldiers uniforms and clothing, he used his trade when liberated and moved to San Francisco to become a tailor for the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra.
Later, he became involved with a Jewish community of artists and learned to paint, depicting his memories of his time in the prison camps, according to Snook.
"At Night I Fly" hits a little closer to home. Filmed at Folsom State Prison, filmmaker Michel Wenzer isn't interested in the lurid fare that typifies popular depictions of prison. He is interested in how some inmates manage to find a way to live and to grow in a place of desolation. For the men profiled in Wenzer's documentary At Night I Fly: Images from New Folsom, salvation comes in the form of self-examination and artistic engagement, helped along by the remnants of California's once-thriving Arts In Corrections program, Snook said.
That program received a huge boost a few years ago when it was canceled in the state budget. Locals, such as Snook, volunteered their time to maintain an arts presence within Folsom State Prison.
"We at KVMR have been granted a red carpet acceptance for many arena's in promoting and producing of many local to national touring artists. KVMR recorded and produced the Historical National broadcast concert of Michael Franti and Spearhead, which was aired same day as a concert from inside the walls of New Folsom," Snook said. "Many artist's such as two-time Grammy Award winning Mary Youngblood have continued to visit and teach weekly workshops in the program, including having her flute maker Pat Heron work with inmates in crafting and gifting many handmade flutes, which some have taken to other prison's in transfers to continue to learn and teach others. Recently guitar wizard Tommy Emmanuel made yet another appearance as he usually does when coming through California to stop at New Folsom for the day. Local artists as Kelly Flemming schedules himself a weekly class and has been involved in recordings of the Prison Blues Band, which Paul Emery of KVMR received a grant for the recording that is to be released. In 10 years of volunteer programs nearly 200 artists from the community have actively played a part in the Arts Program, keeping a door open for the prison system to look at reestablishing the arts back into the system."
Friday's screening of "I Fly At Night" will be the third time the film will show in the U.S. Tickets to the double feature are $10 and available at http://www.brownpapertickets.com. The movies will be shown at the Synthetic Unlimited Opera House, 120 Joershke Dr. in Grass Valley (across from the former BriarPatch Co-Op location).
Seating is limited. For more information, call 530-265-0534.
Features Editor Brett Bentley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 530-477-4219.