A Broken Society

By Taylor Cliff, April 6, 2021
Reflection on Conviction (2019)

This blog was written by Taylor Cliff, Writing for Film, TV, and Emerging Media, minor in Legal Studies, ’23, FLEFF Blogging Staff, Rochester, NY.

According to the ACLU, women are the fastest growing prison population, increasing around twice the rate of men since 1985. Only this statistic doesn’t only pertain to the United States; it is a worldwide issue.

With this in mind, three filmmakers, Nance Ackerman, Teresa MacInnes, and Ariella Pahlke, decided to walk into a Canadian prison and ask the women inside: What would have needed to happen to not end up here?” Over the course of four years exploring this question, the film Conviction would be made.

At the center of this film are four women: three inmates and one of the prison’s guards. We watch as the women live day to day, and their trips in and out of the prison. For many of them, this is not a one and done occurrence. In the film, one of the subjects even mentions how some of the prisoners feel safer within their cells than they do in the outside world.

Throughout the film, the women are even encouraged to express things creatively, whether it be painting or even creating their own short films. A process the filmmakers helped them with and included them in when it came to editing. Each woman had a say.

Come the end of the week, FLEFF held a talkback on the film with filmmakers Nance Ackerman and Ariella Pahlke, along with Senator Kim Pate, and former-inmate and one of the stars of the film, Treena Smith.

One of the first things Ackerman had to say about this film was that it wasn’t just another broken prison film, “this is a broken society film.” Soon after, she adds “We need to become a better supportive person in our communities to those who are marginalized. This is more than just prisons.”

Later in the talk, Pahlke shares that “3/4 of the women in that prison at the time were on remand – not yet sentenced.” Another gut punch when further exploring the initial statistic that helped this film take off.

So came a question, “How much do you want to open up to the world these women’s stories?” Ackerman once says. It made me reflect back on something Smith said earlier in the call; citing how at one point she was not sure about the footage from her own life. Yet, by the end and as she was allowed to help collaborate on the film, lots of that footage remained intact.  

But I think what really stuck with me, even after the talkback had closed, was Ackerman saying, “our job was to make people feel it in their guts.” Something I would argue the filmmakers pulled off with a perfect execution.

The stories of these women hang heavy in my mind, filling my body with mixed emotions. To see their successes, a happiness overcomes me, to know they are persevering above the terrible things they have been through. But to hear about their lows break my heart, even if they are strangers, I may never meet.

While others may not be given the chance to hear a talkback on the film as I was given a chance to, I certainly believe it is a film that very much deserves a watch. A trailer for the film can be found here.