The Filmmaker Who Went Behind Prison Walls
By definition, film directors have control issues. To fulfill their creative vision, they compel events and people and settings to conform to plan.
“I’m so bossy, I’m so bossy,” says award-winning O‘ahu film director Ciara Lacy, whose cinéma vérité documentary Out of State was selected for national distribution by the PBS series Independent Lens.
We at PBS Hawai‘i are proud to debut Out of State this month. The documentary follows two Native Hawaiian men who were sent to serve their prison sentences at privately owned Saguaro Correctional Center in Arizona. They’re connecting with their culture behind bars, far from home, and later they struggle to reintegrate into society on O‘ahu.
Controlling her circumstances had long been a hallmark of Ciara’s life. As a teenager, her relentless control of time and study habits helped propel her to honors as valedictorian at Kamehameha Schools Kapālama. Next came graduation from Yale University.
Instead of pursuing a job related to her psychology major, Ciara resolved to break into the music video business in New York. And she did so – by placing a Craigslist ad.
Her ability to harness people and schedules and her creativity led to 10 years of consuming work in video production on the East and West Coasts.
“You want to show up and own the space and say, ‘This is how everything has to work.’ Right? This is my crew, this is my schedule, this is what it has to be,” Ciara explained on a recent episode of Long Story Short.
However, tell that to prison authorities who rule the roost and to prisoners who have more than enough reasons not to let down their guard. Ciara knew she wouldn’t be able to make the film she wanted, unless she released her need for control.
“When it came to working in the prison,” she said, “I call it Taoist filmmaking. You don’t have control and you just give it all up. And you say, ‘thank you for whatever you’re able to do.’”
All of five-feet-three inches tall and swimming in her husband’s long-sleeved shirt, Ciara says she employed a different “super power” in interacting with prison officials and prisoners.
“I brought a female presence into an all-male space and used collaboration. It wasn’t about me and what I get, it was about sharing.”
The result is a thought-provoking, multi-layered film, airing on May 6 at 9:00 pm on PBS Hawai‘i.
Congratulations to Ciara Lacy, her producer Beau Bassett of Honolulu and the documentary team. And best wishes to prisoners and ex-cons with their own kind of creative vision: seeing and striving to make better lives.