Hot Docs 2016 Review: How to Prepare for Prison

Posted in Festival Coverage, Hot Docs 2016, Movies by - May 04, 2016
Hot Docs 2016 Review: How to Prepare for Prison

How to Prepare for Prison

Canadian Spectrum

There are four intimate, fascinating stories in How to Prepare for Prison, and a whole bunch of curious ideas and random tangents too. A father and husband living in Windsor, a gay black teenager in Detroit, and a 30-year-old woman in Calgary who has lost her fiance, house,and job, all prepare for the prospect of prison. They navigate the complications of the courts, debt, stigma, and the uncertainly about if and for how long they may lose their freedoms.

A fourth story follows a wheelchair-bound senior in Dallas, who on a fateful day as a young man made a grave mistake, stealing a purse, running from police, and finding a bullet in his back, paralyzing him for life. And then prison.

Director Matt Gallagher intertwines these similar stories, unearthing fear, frustration, empathy, nuance, and even humour. Each has a different tone though, and Gallagher tries to stay focus on the human component, but the film can’t help but stumble into important issues concerning the criminal justice system and its effectiveness.

The former convict, along with a judge and a sheriff offer their thoughts on the corrections and punishment, but they just say a few words here and there, and How to Prepare for Prison doesn’t know exactly what to do with all these comments other than to let them be voiced. One champions the system, another chastises it. Elsewhere, a former convict now consults those entering prison on what to expect and how to best cope; all these voices, while interesting, distract from the main story.

It’s not an effective issue film, thought it sometimes points in that direction. Instead, it’s a human tale, a worthy one with flaws, but one that will have you engaged and curious.

How to Prepare for Prison plays once more at Hot Docs

Sun, May 8 3:30 PM Isabel Bader Theatre

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Anthony is a lover of a good story in any form, on any subject. Tirelessly navigating filmdom, he is equal parts an unbridled idealist and stubborn curmudgeon, trying to strike a balance between head and heart when it comes to pop culture. He pens stories about television, music, the environment, lifestyles, and all things noteworthy and peculiar.