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Interview with the Director
Q: What was the editing process like?
We had a whole collection of film noir that dealt with religion in prison, and miles of footage on great characters we were not able to weave into the final plot lines. The editing process was an arduous one and the writing process long. Research was executed simultaneous to editing, and this would sometimes push us in an alternate direction. We wrestled with narrative elements. There was significant footage of prison ex-convict stories, and it took considerable consideration on what or who to exclude from the film. These were endearing characters whose stories didn’t quite arc the right way. Something that was researched and filmed, but that wasn’t included in the documentary due to time constraints and narrative focus was exploring the expenditure of state funds as it relates to the separation of church and state.
Q: There is noted ambivalence towards religious ministries in Faith in the Big House. What do you want viewers to take away from the documentary?
I would rather not answer that question. I don’t believe that as a filmmaker you are required to divulge a definitive point of view. There is one’s personal beliefs, the construct of the setting, life is complicated.
For some the take away from this film is that powerful right wing religious zealots take advantage of people in desperate conditions in efforts to force them to convert and sacrifice long term, efficacious prison rehabilitation. Another take away is that prison missions are legitimately helping to diminish violence, keep people out of prison, and offering humane and warm interactions.
In terms of recidivism, or the rate of return to prison, the viewer gets a good dose of the argument that God cannot be substituted for a solid GED or a program that educates one for a trade or a warm embracing family. In the 70s and 80s there were more extensive social programs formally offered and peer- to-peer literacy programs. All adding up to both formal and informal channels offered for self-improvement. Today it is more the weight-pile or TV.
It can be argued that Faith-based involvement in prison can be helpful because of the discipline it can help provide and the exposure to outsiders. Faith-based operations can supply a network and assist with literacy and education, both during and after incarceration. Both secular and faith based programs that address substance abuse may be helpful. It has more to do with the quality of the program and the symptoms addressed, not just the behavior.
Q:You have admitted that you came into this film with preconceptions. Did your point of view change in any way through the making of this film?
No, but despite my critical stance towards any group that promises to have the truth or openly uses brainwashing techniques to harvest souls, I was moved by the sincere efforts of prison ministry organizations. Ironically, the kind of intimate fellowship I witnessed at prison revivals and retreats was similar to my upbringing in the Civil Rights and Anti-Vietnam War movements. I was moved when tough prisoners became unguarded and spoke openly about their pain. They discussed separations from the women they loved, from the children they had fathered and still fathered despite the fact they were in prison.