Big Ideas Alumni Premieres Documentary on Formerly Incarcerated Students

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The UC Berkeley premiere of FITE Film is October 12th in Stanley Hall room #105. A panel discussion featuring the individuals in the film will follow immediately after the screening  to  put real faces to real issues. Seating is limited! Click here to purchase tickets.

With more than 2.3 million people in the prison system, the U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world. Americans make up 5% of the global population but, shockingly, our prisons hold 25% of the world’s prisoners. The National Institute of Justice reports that many former offenders will return to incarceration— some as soon as the end of their first year post-release.  Recidivism, or a person’s relapse into criminal behavior, is a contentious issue amongst policymakers looking to resolve the problem of overcrowded prisons in the U.S. UC Berkeley alumna and 2016 Big Ideas Contest winner Skylar Economy and her film crew—consisting of co-producers Sheila Wagner, Tristan Caro, Christian Collins, and Clarence Ford—are adding a new perspective on how the country can address mass incarceration. They are shedding light on recidivism through “From Incarceration to Education” — the FITE Film — their in-depth documentary on formerly incarcerated students and their journey in higher education.

Ms. Economy first learned about recidivism from  an article highlighting the Underground Scholars Initiative, an organization on campus that connects and supports formerly incarcerated UC Berkeley students. Initially, FITE Film started as a short documentary Economy created for a class. As she learned more about the topic and delved deeper into the issue of recidivism, she and her co-producer decided to develop a longer film with the goal of screening it in prisons and in film festivals.

“One of our main goals is to show that it is possible to get out of the system and achieve higher education. We wanted to really bring this message to people on a different emotional level,” Economy stated. “With film, the audience is able to see and hear the people on screen. Paired with the panel, I believe this will really help to foster that personal connection between the audience and the individuals in the film.”

Not only is FITE Film an educational resource for currently and formerly incarcerated individuals, it is also part of a larger vision. Economy and her team have been actively creating a network of online resources by partnering with mentorship and advocacy organizations such as the Berkeley Underground Scholars Initiative and  Root & Rebound in order to aid currently and formerly incarcerated individuals in their transition back to society. “You can make a documentary about all kinds of different issues to inspire people, but it’s not until you give people that second step, the answer to ‘Now what?’, that they will be able to do something about the issue,” Economy said.

However, tackling an issue like recidivism does not come without challenges. The team strives to make the film accessible to individuals in the prison system, those who “need it most.” However, to be shown in prisons and other correctional institutions, the film must adhere to strict protocols in order to be approved by prison wardens. For example, Economy explains that instead of labeling the film a documentary, it must be referred to as an “educational film”. Yet, these hurdles will not stop the team from pursuing their goal to have FITE Film reach its intended audience.

FITE Film won first place in both the Big Ideas Art & Social Change category and at the Grand Prize Pitch Day in 2016. According to Economy, the value of participating in the Big Ideas contest went far beyond just the award. “Big Ideas really gave us confidence in our idea and in ourselves in order to make this project a reality,” Economy stated. “Through Big Ideas, we were given more than just funding: they gave us support from diverse, passionate people who also wanted to make a positive difference in the world.”
Since winning Big Ideas, the FITE Film project and team has grown exponentially. In the past two years, the film was chosen as a commitment in the annual Clinton Global Initiative University 2016, became finalists for Fast Company’s 2017 World Changing Ideas Award, and was also chosen as a finalist for Red Bull Amaphiko Academy 2017. The team launched a successful Indiegogo campaign that raised $15,805 online and won a highly-coveted grant for editorial assistance from the Berkeley Film Foundation.  

Looking beyond the Bay Area, Economy and her team hope to partner with other centers and prisons across the country for screenings as well. “Our ultimate goal is a self-sustaining program.  We hope in the future that anyone will be able to acquire the screening and hold a panel by themselves.” Economy said. “Hopefully, the film will pick up more attention, and more people will start to understand that no, having been incarcerated is not an end-all be-all. There are options, resources, and people that can and will support those affected by incarceration go to a better place.”

After the film screening, a Q&A panel will be led by the filmmakers, Skylar Economy and Christian Collins, and the four formerly incarcerated students from the film: PhD student David Maldonado, graduate student Clarence Ford, undergraduate student Shalita Williams, and undergraduate student Richard Rodriguez. The panel will be followed by an introduction of FITE Film’s collaboration with Root & Rebound, a legal advocacy group, where the FITE Film team will connect the audience to resources available for formerly incarcerated persons, through the use of Root & Rebound’s “Roadmap to Reentry”.

In addition to its 2017 fall premiere, FITE Film is looking to launch nationwide in 2018. Keep an eye out for FITE Film in theaters near you!

***For more information on how to support FITE film, please visit their website. ***