Amy Obarski is a cinematographer whose works includes short and feature length documentary and narrative films, music videos and commercials. She is a graduate of Ithaca College and lives in New York City. Read her statement below.
When I look back on my years at university, and how I’ve grown as a filmmaker and artist, it is hard to not recognize the insurmountable affect that this documentary has on me.
Every Monday after class, I traveled with Bruce, Andy and fellow students to the Auburn State Penitentiary. I passed through the halls of a maximum-security prison; a place where ever since I was a child was told, “that’s where bad people go.” I will never forget the first time we walked across the courtyard on our way to the schoolhouse. Within seconds of stepping onto the asphalt, a roar of inmate’s voices sprang at us through the cold nighttime. We were introduced to the students and were allowed to shake their hand. Outside a guard stood watch. Over the ensuing months of filming, we came to know and listen to what these inmates, these men, where sharing through Shakespeare. Some were more open than others, some denied their crimes entirely, and some were victims of sheer bad luck and unfortunate timing.
This place where “bad people go,” soon transformed into a moral quandary of sorts for myself and, as far as I can tell, my fellow filmmakers. We would leave the prison and rush across the street to the gas station, eager to buy snacks. Sometimes, I remember thinking that I wasn’t even that hungry, so why did I buy those bag of chips? I soon realized I bought them just because I could. We would talk about what the student’s said during the rehearsal, how they acted towards our questions, whether what they told us was genuine. How would we have acted if we were in their shoes?
From a cinematography standpoint, I believe that this documentary helped me immensely as a shooter. I was able to sense what was important to capture and including the pathos of the students that could be found on and off the page. I was constantly scanning the classroom looking for tidbits and moments that no one else was capturing, which was quite a task because we were shooting with three DSLR’s simultaneously!
I owe a lot of who I am as a filmmaker to my experience shooting this documentary. I met a group of incredible people, and I’m speaking of the inmates as well as my colleagues who collaborated on the production, who I will never forget.