Margie Friedman is the producer/director of the film, Conducting Hope.
1. Margie, can you tell us about the East Hills Singers at Lansing Correctional Facility, how they came about and what is unique about them?
The East Hills Singers was started in 1995 by Elvera Voth, a retired musical conductor, raised in Kansas, who decided that there ought to be a choir at Lansing Correctional Facility. She then founded Arts in Prison, Inc, the non-profit organization that runs the choir along with other prison arts programs.
What's unique about the choir is that it's the only prison choir in the country that performs outside prison walls. In addition, half of the choir is comprised of men from the Kansas City community who volunteer their time to sing with the inmates. In addition, former inmates are welcome to continue singing with the choir as community members after being released. So, the choir has several layers.
2. Why were you motivated to direct and produce the documentary? When and where is the film premiering and how can readers watch a trailer?
I work in television production and six years ago I was exploring unique choirs and wondered if there were any prison choirs. I went on the Internet and found Arts in Prison, Inc. I was so impressed by the work they were doing and the purpose of the choir — to change these inmates' lives —that I decided to pursue doing a documentary on the East Hills Singers.
The film premieres at the Kansas City International Film Festival, Glenwood Oaks Theatre, Overland Park on Oct. 5 at 3 p.m. To view the film trailer, go to: https://vimeo.com/72865890.
The film will also air on public television stations across the country, including Kansas, beginning in November.
3. The film emphasizes the work of local community members who are trying to change the lives of inmates. What are the most important things that your film teaches about the importance of interaction between those on the "inside" and those on the "outside?"
The most important thing the film teaches about the interaction between the inmates and the volunteers is the impact of being treated like a human being regardless of who you are or what you've done. The choir director, Kirk Carson, says he doesn't know what crimes these men have committed and he doesn't want to know. He's there to create music. The volunteer choir members also serve as mentors to the inmates. The former inmates who choose to remain with the choir are role models, inspiring other inmates to make the same positive choices after being released. The former inmates know what the current inmates are going through and what they'll face in the future.
4. How has the East Hills Singers choir changed the lives of the inmates who participate?
Page 2 of 2 - Most important, the East Hills Singers gives the inmates hope. For many, it's the first time they've done anything positive. The choir teaches them discipline, teamwork and how to present themselves in public--all skills they'll take with them when they integrate back into society.
The ultimate purpose of the choir is to reduce the rate of recidivism. The national rate is more than 50 percent. The rate for East Hills Singers is 18 percent.
5. What do you hope that viewers will take away from your documentary?
Clearly, there are no easy answers to the problem of recidivism among the prison population and certainly, programs like East Hills Singers are only one small part of the solution. But, I hope the film generates discussion.
As Arts in Prison, Inc. points out, these men are going to get out and they are going to come back into our communities. How they return impacts all of us. That's the "message" part of the film. The other aspect of the film is that viewers will be inspired and entertained by the concert itself — and definitely impressed by the quality of the musical performance. There's a lot of real talent in the group. Ultimately, the choir is proof that music has the power to change people's lives.
— Rimsie McConiga