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Shakespeare Behind Bars

4.6 out of 5 stars (49) IMDb 7.7/10

Shakespeare Behind Bars is a compelling film that follows an all-male Shakespearean theater company composed of convicted felons. For one year, while incarcerated at Kentucky's Luther Luckett prison, the cast rehearse and perform a full production of Shakespeare's great last play, The Tempest.

1 hour, 32 minutes

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Product Details

Genres Documentary
Director Hank Rogerson
Studio Shout Factory
MPAA rating NR (Not Rated)
Purchase rights Stream instantly Details
Format Amazon Video (streaming online video)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Mark Hourigan on August 3, 2006
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
Although I am not in this documentery, I was a prisoner at Luther Luckett Correctional Complex in LaGrange, Kentucky during filming. It's almost hard for me to praise the film because I have a biased opinion. I know every one of the guys in this film personally and have experienced much of what they have. This film is about searching yourself, searching for the truth of who you really are inside. No other prison program helped me more than Shakespeare Behind Bars because for the first time in my life, I took a look at the real me. As the men in this film allow you to take a look at who they are, I challenge you to face your own personal truth just as I did while I was a member of Shakespeare Behind Bars. In the words of William Shakespeare, "To thine own self be true"!!!
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Format: DVD
Shakespeare Behind Bars (dir. Hank Rogerson) cracks open the hardened shell of an audience and makes us look at the true human soul inside characters who are otherwise dismissible as "monsters." There is nobody I wouldn't recommend it to. So I have to limit the focus here to what was most important to me about the film and why I walked out knowing that my life is better for watching it.

Curt Tofteland has been volunteering on a weekly basis with prisoners in Kentucky for ten years now to direct the Shakespeare Behind Bars program: 30 inmates who rehearse nine months to perform one show. Through a friend I was given the opportunity to have breakfast with Curt Tofteland and Hank Rogerson, director of the documentary. As I tried to hang words on what the documentary meant to me, Curt just nodded with a knowing smile. He told me that Shakespeare isn't just a literary icon, but the writer who captured raw humanity better than anyone ever has. Which is why he brought Shakespeare to the prisoners.

24 hours a day, 7 days a week, year after year these inmates wear a hardened mask, a false-self who feels no pain. It's survival of the fittest and softness is not rewarded in prison. But for the 30 inmates involved with the Shakespeare productions, honesty is a mandate. They are cast by their peers in roles that fit their background and their crime. In their rehearsals they push each other to go deep, to find honesty, to not act but really wear their character, which for a lot of them means wearing their own skin for the first time. From the screen, their souls became palpable during rehearsals. I watched them discover for the first time the true man behind the label "prisoner," "deviant," "convict."

The film is breathtaking. I laughed and I cried. Then I left the theater chewing on the fact I just just laughed and cried through the struggles of men society has deemed unsafe to enjoy the freedoms I enjoy. That's a sure sign of great filmmaking.
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Format: DVD Verified Purchase
This film has rightly been feted generously with accolades and prizes - it's a brilliant Idea, and a deeply affecting, memorable experience. Others here have shared the general premise of the film. I suggest wholeheartedly that it be required viewing for every living educator, it contains life-giving helpings of both seeds and fruit of the vast and intimate fields of purpose educators face every day in myriad ways. Tenderly directed by Hank Rogerson, copiously rich with a story of human beings finding redemption through Shakespeare's eternal art, Shakespeare Behind Bars is a one-of-a-kind jewel. By film's end, the 'bars' melt away in an ineffacable lesson about FREEDOM, miraculously enough, and very real human suffering finds a resonant voice in these prisoners who have never had one, a voice that shouts with hope. It is, simply, a film of joy in the divine power of human art. I've not encountered another like it - it sticks to your ribs and cleanses your mind. Don't delay the experience! Check it out - you'll be awfully glad you did.
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Format: DVD
Catching up on some documentaries that I missed, I was eager to check out "Shakespeare Behind Bars" which had been a big sensation on the film festival circuit a couple of years ago. Highlighting a program within Kentucky's Luther Luckett medium security prison, "Shakespeare" details the staging of Shakespeare's "The Tempest" by a small group of dedicated inmates. This is a program that has existed for many years at this particular prison (each year boasts a different Shakespearean play) and has had a surprising impact on those who have participated. From casting through performance, the film follows many months of rehearsals--but more important than the play itself is how the various inmates relate to the material and to the experience of performing.

We meet a diverse group of convicts, and many share their personal history. With surprising candor and regret, in most cases, they are upfront about their crimes (up to and including murder). Most of the interviews are thoughtful, honest, and even insightful--these men take full responsibility for the actions which led them to be locked up. Using the Shakespeare Behind Bars program as rehabilitation, many have found a better understanding of themselves (and human nature) by exploring the themes inherent in the plays. One particular example comes from the inmate who is coerced into playing Miranda, the young female protagonist of "The Tempest." Initially resistant, it is fascinating to see him come to identify with Miranda--by fully understanding her, he is coming to terms with himself.

But these men are criminals, too. And we see how parole hearings, transfers, and solitary confinement threaten to derail the production. But again, it's not so much about "The Tempest.
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