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By Matt Hughes
Lewisburg, Pa. — A documentary produced by Bucknell University students may soon be shown at one of the most exclusive venues in the country, inside the halls of the U.S. Congress.
The documentary filmed by Associate Professor Eric Faden's Film/Media Production Clinic examines a fledgling re-entry program for federal inmates sentenced through the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.
"We anticipate it's going to be shown in Washington," Eric W. Noll, Deputy Chief U.S. Probation Officer for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, said of the film. "This is a good program. We believe it could be a model for other places in the United States, but we've got to get the word out."
Created in March, 2009 by Chief Judge Yvette Kane, the Court-Assisted Re-Entry (CARE) Program aims to reduce criminal recidivism through court oversight. Judges, probation officers and community volunteers work side-by-side with individuals on probation in helping them adjust to life outside prison. Participants successfully completing the program can have their time on probation reduced. CARE is unique among re-entry programs in including community mentors on its aid panels.
A class of five Bucknell students and Faden, Associate Professor of English and Film/Media Studies, conducted more than a dozen interviews with current and former participants; federal judges, probation officers and prison wardens; and community volunteers, condensing the resulting 26 hours of video into a documentary short running about 15 minutes. The project took the class inside the walls of the Federal Correctional Institute — Schuylkill in Minersville, Pa., and to federal courthouses in Harrisburg, Scranton and Williamsport.
"The participants were some of the most empowering interviews that we did," said senior Caitlin Falco. "They were willing to go back to the day that they were arrested and to share those feelings and experiences with us, which is what was going to make the film effective and powerful, and you really saw how the CARE Program changed their lives."
Probation officers hope the narratives the students have woven will testify to the program's efficacy. They plan to show the video to community groups in hope of recruiting volunteer mentors and to inmates awaiting release in effort to encourage participation.
"There are offenders who are reluctant to participate in programs like this for various reasons," said Anthony C. Harvilla, Chief U.S. Probation Officer for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. "There's a reluctance, a misunderstanding of what they're going to get out of this program. Part of this video is to get to those offenders and to say, here's what some other offenders who have gone through the program have experienced."
Probation officers and the filmmakers agreed the documentary approach offered the best method of explaining the program and highlighting its effectiveness.
"This had to be a video; it wouldn't work any other way," said Brianna Derr, a graduate student and Video Production Specialist for Bucknell. "It wouldn't work in a pamphlet where you're just reading and not really seeing or feeling the effect of it."
Students said Faden's production clinic has also advanced their filmmaking prowess, providing real-world experience in pragmatic aspects of production that can't be learned from a textbook.
"It really did stop being a class," said Erich Gilbride '14. "I forget that this is a class because it just feels like a professional production unit."
That feeling came by design, Faden said.
"One of the things I was frustrated with as a teacher is the idea that student video has a kind of stigma about it; that it's just a student video and that somehow the bar is way down here," he said. "We wanted to set the bar much higher. We want something that could easily be shown on television or in a movie theater."
And the film will get its big-screen premiere at the Campus Theatre in downtown Lewisburg on April 30. Federal officials including judges Yvette Kane, Thomas Vanaskie and William Arbuckle plan to attend.
"It's really something to be proud of," Gilbride said, summing up the film and his experience creating it. "It's a really cool opportunity that I don't think you'd get anywhere else."