I love the documentary genre. I love learning new things, discovering new places, but most of all I love to see the transformation in people as their lives are changed for the better. Not all documentaries fit that bill, but “Dramatic Escape,” playing at the 2016 Heartland Film Festival, is a portrait of how powerful small changes in a person’s life can have a huge impact.
“Dramatic Escape” follows inmates at Sing Sing prison in 2011 as they take part in the Rehabilitation through the Arts (RTA), a program that produces a play each year decided on by the inmates involved. The committee decided on “A Few Good Men” and the process begins.
Clarence Maclin is just one of many featured inmates who recount their crimes and wear scars – some physical, some mental – and show that the man that goes into prison isn’t necessarily the man that walks back out. The vast majority of the RTA members are thoughtful, articulate and share wisdom that someone who has never shared the same experiences could never possess.
Through each stage of the production – from audition to final curtain call, we get to see veteran members of the program guide the younger ones and watch at the younger ones make transformations before our eyes. It’s a truly moving process.
It’s not all fun and games. They take each stage of the production seriously as they rehearse in their cells, rehearse in the yard and every step of the way they challenge each other to expect more out of themselves and more importantly lift each other up when the other falls.
After spending time center stage in prior productions, Maclin finds himself working behind the scenes this time, mentoring and guiding the younger members. but he has another milestone on his mind. His release from prison following 18 years for the crime of robbery in on the horizon, but his new role is put to the test when as his parole date nears and complications arise.
“Dramatic Escape” is a wonderful documentary that showcases the transformational ability of programs such as Sing Sing’s RTA. This documentary underscore the need for institutions to put more of an emphasis on the rehabilitation of inmates as a way to mold them into productive members of society.