Tribeca Film Institute outreach program taps prisoners to write movies

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Tuesday, May 16, 2017
Tribeca Film Institute program taps prisoners to write movies
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Entertainment reporter Sandy Kenyon has the latest details.

OTISVILLE, New York (WABC) -- There are many different approaches when it comes to reaching out to convicts serving time, but one group of movie makers is teaching their craft behind bars and touching lives in the process.

The program was developed by Tribeca Film Institute, a nonprofit organization started by Robert De Niro and business partner Jane Rosenthal, who also founded the Tribeca Film Festival.

Behind the glitz and glamour of the festival, you find the program that helps high school students make films written by prison inmates.

Stephen Smith spent 26 years behind bars, and now just a few weeks after his release, the former inmate is on the set of a movie he wrote with other prisoners.

"Just the whole experience was something that all of us really relished," he said. "It was a group effort. I was just appreciating it for the guys."

Tribeca Film Institute vice president of education Vee Bravo developed the program at the Otisville Correctional Facility.

"We have been screening independent films as a way to engage men like Stephen, who have done serious time, and helping them connect to the outside," Bravo said.

Those discussions led to inmates actually writing short films, which is how Smith came to hear his words spoken by actors under the direction of high school senior Isabella Bahl.

"Having him and other men like him really create a personal story helped to ensure that the finished product is something that's authentic and something that will live on," Bahl said.

Call it rehabilitation through show business.

"People can re-invent themselves," Bravo said. "People can re-calibrate...To be able to have an idea that connects one community with another and see it come to fruition, it makes me feel another world is possible."

Students at the city's elite Art and Design High School are finishing the movie and hope to show "Unbecoming Justice" at the Tribeca Film Festival next spring.

Meanwhile, the outreach to New York prisons continues with top Hollywood filmmakers now being enlisted to visit those correctional facilities.