By Stephanie Tokasz, March 19, 2021
A discussion with Ariella Pahlke, one of the filmmakers behind Conviction, a collaborative feature documentary about envisioning alternatives to prison.

A Broken Society

Conviction Poster

Blog posting written by Stephanie Tokasz, Film, Photography, and Visual Arts ’24, minors in Honors Interdisciplinary Studies and Psychology, FLEFF Intern, Orchard Park, New York.

“How about we meet at 10 am your time?” This is what Ariella Pahlke and I’s email chain consisted of as we were trying to plan a proper time to meet over Zoom for an interview. Needless to say, the context of “my time” and “your time” was due to a one-hour time difference between where I reside and where Pahlke currently resides, Nova Scotia.

Nova Scotia is also the place where the collaborative feature documentary, Conviction, was filmed. Pahlke co-wrote and co-directed this documentary with two other filmmakers, Nance Ackerman and Teresa MacInnes. They also collaborated with women in prison as well as advocates of decarceration.

Conviction tells the story of a group of women going in and out of prison who use music, spoken word, writing, photographs, and video journals to express themselves.

Overall, Conviction is not another ‘broken prison’ film, but it is instead a ‘broken society’ film.

The film opens with the statement, “Women are the fastest growing prison population worldwide.” The collaborative documentary team went inside the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility and the Nova Institution for Women with art supplies, a music therapist, and film equipment to understand why.

As a result of the story mostly being told through the eyes of the women behind bars, conventional documentary roles are blurred. The women were not only a part of participating in the film for its entirety, but they also use their voices to create their own versions of what they believe would make a better society.

In working to envision and create a better society, the women explore how they could be a part of creating an organization that would result in prison reform, alternatives to prison, and decarceration. They develop an idea for a non-profit organization called, “From the Ground Up” and have since been attempting to raise the money to make this place actually exist. Pahlke stated, “As a filmmaker, it’s very rewarding to know that you’ve created something with people who are going on to actually create something that really came out of that experience of participating in the film.”

Pahlke states that she and her collaborative filmmakers “have continued to involve the women in [their] impact work and the outreach and distribution of the film.” They are also still in touch with all of the women featured in the film.

Pahlke also expressed that she was very excited when Dr. Patricia Zimmermann, the co-director of FLEFF, reached out about programming Conviction because she loves “the festival’s approach to engaging the artists and the public in multiple layers of dialogue about content and process throughout the whole festival.” She said that many other festivals just do a screening and a short Q&A afterward, “but the approach FLEFF has seems to be a lot richer and more meaningful, in terms of connecting both artists and [the] public.”

Overall, the film Conviction investigates the question of what the women in the film would have needed to not end up in prison at all. Although this question was heavily explored within the documentary, it can also be a universal question and can hopefully initiate conversation surrounding alternatives to prison.

Conviction will be available for viewing from March 29th to April 4th, and the talkback will be held Saturday, April 3rd at 7 pm. At least one of the women from the film will be a part of the talkback.