(Speech Thomas (Arrested Development), Teddy Kane, Garland Carr, Anthony Johnston, Devonte James, et al / DVD / NR / (2018) 2020 / Lightyear Entertainment)
Overview: '16 Bars' offers a rare glimpse at the human stories and songs locked away in our nation's jails and prisons.
The documentary follows a unique rehabilitation effort in a Virginia jail that encourages inmates to write and record original music.
DVD Verdict: In the jail's makeshift recording studio, four men collaborate to produce an album with Grammy-winner Todd Speech Thomas of Arrested Development.
But, and before anything else, we listen to this quartet of heartbreaking stories from the incarcerated men: Garland, De’vonte, Anthony, and Teddy. The four come from all walks of life–from crippling poverty and homelessness to a decent family life.
As the creative process unfolds, these incarcerated artists must confront the traumas of their past, and music becomes the key to unlocking a new chapter in their lives.
That said, one very important thing to know going in was this was nothing more than an experiment. Not that listening to the quartet and their sad stories isn't going to make you care for them, but you will definitely lean in more and listen to their collective words: both spoken about life and through their lyrics.
What they end up singing about is their lives on the street, drug addictions, drug epidemics, and feeling as if having free time could get them deeper into trouble. In short, they sing about being trapped inside the system.
Two-time Grammy-winner Speech Thomas is widely considered one of the godfathers of conscious hip-hop. His band Arrested Development's 1993 debut album 3 Years, 5 Months & 2 Days in the Life of... went quadruple platinum and achieved what few thought was possible at the time; establishing an Afrocentric alternative to gangster rap that was commercially viable.
25 years later, Speech continues to tour the world with his band and seek out opportunities to use music to address issues of social and racial justice.
Starting in 2017, he set out on a journey to the Richmond City Jail, where he conducted music workshops with inmates. His goal was to shed light on the complex issues in our criminal justice system by bringing the voices and stories of incarcerated people to a larger audience.
And so here in '16 Bars' we get a most beautifully, dedicated and simply inner-driven film that shines a light on a system that needs to change and the hidden talent within that system.
Everyone from the staff to the inmates as well as the producers of this gem of a film prove that change is possible and go further as to offer suggestions for the future. This is a Widescreen Presentations (1.85:1) and enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the extras of:
4 Individual Music Videos For Songs Created Inside The Prison Recording Studio
Full Q&A After The World Premiere Screening of DocLands Film Festival at Smith Rafael Film Center, Courtesy of California Film Institute