Friday, October 12, 2012

@NOFS Review: "Herman's House"

Cross posted from MoviePass:

A good friend of mine and I have had many a late night discussion about scripts involving characters in prison. This is mostly because of our deviant interest in HBO's OZ and our willingness to write characters who live tortured lives. The one thing that always comes up in our talks is the idea of redemption. Is it possible for an ex con to live a normal life in public AND be accepted by others?

Usually, there is a stigma attached to former prisoners (especially sexual offenders) that prevents them from gaining employment, making friends and even enjoying their freedom. And, in some cases, they go right back behind bars because of a community's inability to let them move on. Can any one prisoner - current or former - change people's minds?

Artist Jackie Sumell began a pen pal kind of relationship with Herman Wallace, an inmate at Angola Prison in Louisiana, after learning about his solitary confinement. A 30 some odd YEAR solitary confinement. For a crime he and others say he didn't do. In an effort to help spread the word about his plight - and to help him mentally/emotionally - she asked him "What kind of house does a man who has lived in a six-foot-by-nine-foot cell for over 30 years dream of?”. Thus began an intriguing art installation setup, and a noble community home project.

"Herman's House" is wonderful in how it paints its central figure, Herman, without ever showing his face. He is heard through phone conversations and seen in old, faded pictures. You would think that a documentary crew would be granted some one on one time with this man... But this only further illustrates not only how cut off Herman is from society, but how he perseveres despite this lack of contact.

Mr. Wallace is extremely articulate, compassionate and inspiring. A young former inmate beams with energy when talking about meeting this man, and how he changed his life. A fellow black panther gladly represents him on the outside. And a lawyer is stunned when Herman offers evidence for a case he is working on; one that would cause Herman's family much grief. When asked why he would be willing to do this against the wishes of his kin, he said "Because it's the right thing to do."

Much of the movie involves Jackie and her efforts to make Herman's House a real home for local NOLA children a reality. She faces roadblock after roadblock, much to the detriment of her own well being. However, she doesn't see it that way. She may be in debt, making little to no money and have a lack of support for this campaign, but she moves on anyways. She believes in Herman, and will continue to fight for him "because it's the right thing to do".

For one man to be such a beacon of inspiration while living under horrendous conditions is amazing. In my opinion, people like Herman Wallace - reformed ex cons, social workers, activist parents - ought to be in the spotlight more often. THEY are fighting the battles that REALLY matter. Sure, they may not be on tv, throwing out zingers at political opponents, but that's only because it would be a waste of time. They are leading strikes, forming community projects and changing minds. Because it is the right thing to do. I'd be willing to bet that most regular people would agree.

4/5 *'s

"Herman's House" will be screening at this years New Orleans Film Festival on October 14th and 15th (filmmaker in attendance on the 14th). Get your tickets here.

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