New Four-Part Documentary Series by Lynn Novick Follows Prisoners Through Rigorous College Program; Explores How Education Transforms Lives and Impacts Criminal Justice
PASADENA, CA; February 1, 2019 — Alfred I. duPont-Columbia and Peabody-Award winning filmmaker Lynn Novick (THE VIETNAM WAR, PROHIBITION, FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT, THE WAR) has directed and produced a new documentary series, COLLEGE BEHIND BARS, that reveals the transformative power of higher education through the experiences of incarcerated men and women, PBS announced today during the Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour. The four-hour series directed and produced by Novick and produced by longtime collaborator Sarah Botstein (THE VIETNAM WAR, PROHIBITION, THE WAR, JAZZ), will air on PBS in November 2019.
COLLEGE BEHIND BARS marks a new path for Novick, who is best known for history films directed with Ken Burns. The four-hour series, distilled from nearly 400 hours of cinéma-vérité footage, explores the lives of a dozen incarcerated men and women as they struggle to earn degrees in the Bard Prison Initiative (BPI), one of the most rigorous and effective prison education programs in the country.
The four-part film, broadcast over two consecutive nights in November, unfolds without narration through an intimate look at the lives, experiences and words of incarcerated men and women and their families. Working with renowned cinematographers Buddy Squires, ASC, and Nadia Hallgren, Novick and producer Botstein received unprecedented access to film for four years inside maximum and medium security prisons in New York State. The film, edited by Tricia Reidy, ACE, takes viewers on a stark and emotionally intense journey into one of the most pressing issues of our time – our failure to provide meaningful rehabilitation for the millions of Americans living behind bars. Executive produced by Ken Burns, COLLEGE BEHIND BARS is Novick’s solo directorial debut.
In this era of mass incarceration, America is the world’s largest jailer, with more than 2 million men and women behind bars; 630,000 are released annually, and nearly 50 percent end up back in prison within five years, trapped in a cycle of imprisonment, release and re-incarceration. As one BPI student says on camera, “Prison is to punish. It’s not about creating productive beings. Individuals are not being prepared for anything other than what they’ve already been doing – crime.”
“This film challenges conventional wisdom about education and incarceration, and raises questions we urgently need to address,” Novick said. “What ultimately is prison for? Who in America has access to educational opportunity? Who among us is capable of academic excellence? How can we break the cycle of recidivism? How can we have justice without redemption?”