Sunday, 30 March 2014

Klymkiw WatchesTV (HBO Canada) - THE UNIVERSITY OF SING SING - Education=Salvation, not the systemic genocide America continues to penetrate upon its people of colour - Review By Greg Klymkiw

Can someone explain to me how America, the supposed bastion of freedom in Western history and culture, continues to be little more than a borderline Third World country that preys on the weakest amongst its own populace to enrich, uh, nobody? I use the word "nobody" only because the country's ruling elite - the rich - really ARE nobody. Even more appalling is the country's systemic racism and frankly, its ongoing genocide of its people of colour. "The University of Sing Sing" offers hope, but for me, it also demonstrates how despicable the ruling elites of the country truly are. Read on...

By Langston Hughes

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

The University Of Sing Sing (2014) ***1/2
Dir. Tim Skousen, Starring: Joel Jimenez, Denis Martinez, Dewey Bozella, Douglas Duncan, Harry Belafonte, Ice-T

Review By Greg Klymkiw

In the span of 40 minutes, you will see a group of men learn and graduate from university. They're no ordinary students. They're all prisoners of Sing Sing, the notorious New York state maximum security prison for violent offenders. They are enrolled in Mercy College through a charitable program called Hudson Link which operates a campus onsite and offers the same rigorous academic program that runs concurrently at their nearby university beyond the walls of the prison. At least half of Sing Sing's prisoners return after they're released. A mere 2% of the program's participants find themselves back behind bars.

This sounds like a pretty good deal to me. Good for the prisoners, good for society and, as much as they might not be able to admit it, it's good for the victims of the crimes perpetrated against them by the men who graduate.

Several things knocked me on my ass while watching this picture.

There isn't a single man enrolled in the program who is anything less than intelligent, personable, deeply ashamed of the horrendous crimes they committed to get themselves in prison, genuinely repentant, sensitive beyond words and such exceptionally gifted human beings one wishes they could be released in order to serve the world in ways they could have if not forced into making the kind of mistakes in their youth that, frankly, have more to do with America's (and society's) treatment of its most vulnerable members of the human race to place them in positions wherein they made the very wrong decisions in the first place.

I'd be happy to break bread with these guys anytime, anywhere.

Another element that struck me is that I did not notice a whole lot of men in the program and, for that matter, amongst the general population of Sing Sing, who weren't people of colour - Americans of African, Mexican, Puerto Rican and among other hues of the rainbow, Asian, dotted the landscape of this world. If Whitey exists within the prison's walls, I can only assume they were on view every time I blinked. This doesn't surprise me, the stats on this are pretty clear.

I was also agog to learn that the program exists with no government support. This is easily the most moronic thing I've ever heard. Sure, it's probably not politically popular, but who gives a shit? Supporting endeavours like this only helps EVERYONE. Luckily, the funding comes from the aforementioned Hudson Link which was founded by several former prisoners who benefitted so greatly from this education that they decided to give back. Thank God for people as opposed to the automatons in government.

The truly inspirational thing about the picture is probably the biggest force that had me off the chair and buttock-clinging the ground is having the whirlwind opportunity to witness the progress of a select group of prisoners in their educational journey - in class, doing homework and finally, graduating with a full-on ceremony under the harsh glare of Sing Sing's fluorescent lights. Along the way, we meet family, friends, teachers, former grads and a number of the philanthropists involved in the program.

Most importantly, we get a chance to the know the men, see their fine work in the program, hear their stories, get a taste of their hopes and dreams and in one far-too-short scene we get to sit in on a round circle chat between the prisoners and rapper Ice-T. I'd have given anything to be a fly on the wall for the whole session. Maybe if it was shot in its entirety this is something we'll get as a bonus extra on a DVD/BluRay release. It's also cool that Ice-T is a big supporter of this program. The tough-minded musician/actor still gets my undying admiration for his powerful "Body Count" album blending rap and heavy metal, which addresses the systemic racism in the crime prevention and justice system. His anthem "Cop Killer" (the uncensored version) is still a work that raises gooseflesh.

Speaking of a DVD/BluRay version, I kind of hope this is a possibility. The film is only 40 minutes long and within the context of the story it tells, it's certainly well structured and edited for maximum impact on television, BUT, I wanted more. Wanting more is probably the best thing any filmmaker can hope for in an audience response, IF the film is working (which this one most certainly is). That said, it feels like the material is worthy of a feature length version with added scope and possibly even a re-think with the available footage to bring an even more personal style to a longer version that the clearly talented director Tim Skousen is more than capable of doing.

In recent years, the bar was significantly raised by the brilliant auteur Alan Zweig for the genre of documentaries about the prison system; why it exists, what led to incarceration and what hopes and dreams guided its inmates to lives outside of the box (as it were). The film Zweig gave us was his feature length A Hard Name, a picture with a specific mise-en-scene and tone that placed its audience into an almost poetic rhythm which delivered a structure to place us squarely within the notion of pain and forgiveness. The bar for documentaries dealing with the racism involved in keeping those of colour down was set by Angad Singh Bhalla's Herman's House the alternately tragic and uplifting tale of the late Herman Wallace.

And look, I don't expect Skousen to make something out of his material that's already been done, but I do suspect he's got a different film in him to make about this program and these men. Here's hoping that happens. In the meantime, we all have a chance to experience this fine picture thanks to the vision of its subjects, filmmakers and broadcaster to make it a reality in the first place.

The University of Sing Sing will air in the Great White North via HBO Canada. For more info, visit HERE.