Clemente on the Big Screen: New Documentary Tells the Story of Common Good Atlanta
When documentary filmmaker Hal Jacobs first heard about Common Good Atlanta, the program that offers Clemente courses to people who have been incarcerated in Georgia, he felt compelled to bring their story to a wider audience. With permission from the professors and students, he began filming a series of interviews that would become the basis of the 2022 documentary Breaking Down the Walls of Mass Incarceration: Common Good Atlanta.
The first few times that Hal visited the classroom with his camera, student Janine Solursh was a little self-conscious. She had just been released from transitional housing, and she and her classmates were finishing up the Clemente Course she’d begun in her last few months of incarceration.
“You have no privacy in prison,” she explains. “Once I got out, it felt amazing not to be watched. And then all of a sudden there was a camera again.”
But she trusted her professors, and as she got to know Hal, she grew more and more invested in the project.
“As soon as I met him, I realized he wants to do this because he wants to tell this story. And that made it worth being uncomfortable for a little bit, because this story needs to be told.”
After the course ended, the two stayed in touch, and Hal asked if Janine would like to accompany him to record follow-up segments with some of her fellow students. Soon, she became an official collaborator on the project, conducting on-screen interviews, assisting with editing, and participating in panels at early screenings. Janine, who has always had a knack for language and story, is credited as a co-writer on the film.
“It was a really good opportunity to see a different side of Common Good,” she says. “I got to see a different side of the professors and volunteers. It’s such a genuine interior investment they’ve made [in this program] with their souls. You see it in every aspect of their lives.”
The project also brought her closer to her fellow students and alumni, many of whom are profiled in the film. She says they are proud to use their talents and voices to help bring more attention to the program, and she is grateful for Hal’s guidance and support.
“When you’re in the place of having been a prisoner, it’s hard to tell your own story. Having people from the outside being willing to give you a platform and hold your hand and tell it with you is really special.”
Breaking Down the Walls of Mass Incarceration: Common Good Atlanta is screening at several locations in Georgia this spring, including this Thursday at the Georgia Museum of Art at 7:00 PM. For more information on the project, check out their website at https://www.commongoodatldoc.com.