I keep thinking that I have to have a serious conversation with the ttff Editorial Director, Jonathan Ali, because my Festival blogging schedule seems to constitute films that—I will admit—make me cry. My subsequent thought is that these films are absolutely brilliant, and the evidence of their moving, transformative power can be seen in the many teary-eyed members of the exiting audience at the end.
One of the most intense movies on my schedule was Songs of Redemption, an absolutely brilliant film by Spanish directors Miquel Galofré and Amanda Sans. It explores an incredible experimental programme at the General Penitentiary in Kinston, Jamaica. The film features inmates found guilty of crimes such as robbery, possession of arms and murder. Through the open-minded vision of the prison’s former superintendent, they embarked upon a rehabilitation plan that included the opportunity for prisoners to write and record reggae music.
The film’s story is told through the revelations of these inmates about their lives—the reason they are behind bars, their coming to terms with incarceration and how it has affected their existence. Songs of Redemption mesmerises and challenges the audience with the emotionally eviscerating stories of these inmates. It forces the audience to ask challenging questions: Is it logical to feel sympathy for a murderer? How is it that I am moved by the remorse of these prisoners? And perhaps the most complex question: Can a past transgressor—who presently speaks about love and caring for the community—still be recognised as a good person, a person worthy of forgiveness?
After a hearty round of applause from the audience, an emotional Galofré, who is based in Trinidad and whose previous films Why Do Jamaicans Run So Fast? and Hit Me with Music were ttff selections, thanked the audience.
“Thank you for your very good feedback. Every time I see [the film], it touches me bad because it is intense and it is not fiction, it’s real, these people are in prison now and it happens everywhere so I get kind of emotional.”
The moderator, BC Pires, commended Galofré for a very moving and powerful film, even heralding it as the “best film of the festival”. He then asked Galofré why he and Sans chose to do this film.
“Six years ago when we went to Jamaica, when we did Why Do Jamaicans Run So Fast?, we [tried] to do this film but to go inside the prison with a camera is very difficult and when we reached there we didn’t get a permit,” he explained. “What happened was it was the Olympic games in China and we were in Jamaica and Usain Bolt was winning all of the gold medals so we filmed Why Do Jamaicans Run So Fast?. We were waiting for a permit for this one but it wasn’t easy and after six years we got a permit for five days. Of course in five days it was impossible but we asked for one more week and then one more week and we were there for six weeks.”
Galofré also talked about how difficult it was to get honest material.
“It was difficult, we were only allowed to be there from ten in the morning until three [in the afternoon] and people at three o’clock are locked up with no toilets until 9am. That is 18 hours. That is hard—and we could not be there at that time. When they open the doors at 9am in the morning is when all the fights happen because they are in a bad mood but we never got that. We only got access to the ‘nice part’ of the prison. There were other cells I saw where there are three men sleeping on the floor.”
One audience member inquired as to whether the film has been shown in the prison. Galofré responded saying that the world premiere was inside the prison and that the inmates were very happy.
“The screening was amazing. We could not hear the film, they were so excited. In Jamaica we did 12 screenings and in one of the screenings they came out and did a performance and the Prime Minister was there.”
“Every Jamaican is a movie star,” added Galofré. “You [give them] a mic, they sing, they talk and they are amazing. That’s why I love them.”
At this point Galofré commended his co-director Amanda Sans.
“Amanda did an amazing job and I think that because these guys were in jail and she was a woman, it helped to get the guys open up and to talk about anything they want.”
Another audience member asked how many inmates took part in the programme.
“At first joining this type of programme for them is like joining Babylon,” he explained, “but that is changing. It started with a group of 10; now it’s more than 200.”
The film is dedicated to human rights activist Carla Gullota, who runs the programme.
“Carla does this job and she was amazing. To bring this programme was very difficult. People thought, ‘They are inmates, they should be living like rats.’ She is in charge of it now and few people can do what she does.”
Galofré was also asked about negative feedback from the families of victims of the prisoners.
“I was worried about the victims’ reaction but it was good and I was surprised,” he said. “At one of the screenings in Kingston, Pity More, the one who killed his ex-wife, the mother of the ex-wife went to the screening. He is allowed to see the children. It’s amazing how people can forgive sometimes.”
Proceeds from the soundtrack for Songs of Redemption will go to the victims’ families.