Eastern State Penitentiary screens new animated films created by currently-incarcerated artists

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Eastern State Penitentiary was once the most famous and expensive prison in the world, but stands today in ruin, a haunting world of crumbling cellblocks and empty guard towers. Known for its grand architecture and strict discipline, this was the world's first true "penitentiary," a prison designed to inspire penitence, or true regret, in the hearts of prisoners. Its vaulted, sky-lit cells held approximately 80,000 men and women during its 142 years of operation, including bank robber "Slick Willie" Sutton and “Scarface” Al Capone.

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

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Screenings will last approximately 40 minutes and occur three times nightly starting at 7:00 p.m., 8:00 p.m., and 9:00 p.m. The screenings will be grouped into four themed weeks: “The View from Inside,” “Criminal Justice Today,” “Family and Community Impact,” and “Restorative Justice.” During a given week, audiences will see about five original short films that touch on that week’s theme. Additional guest films, all created by filmmakers close to the criminal justice system or communities impacted by high rates of incarceration, will round out the nightly screenings.

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

The project will culminate in a one-night festival on September 12, during which all 20 original films will be 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 has been in development for three years. Teaching artists employed by Eastern State Penitentiary have been leading classes in storytelling, screen writing, narration and animation inside Pennsylvania correctional institutions since the summer of 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, the public can visit www.HiddenLives.org.

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