FIN Content: Prison documentary focuses on how society, not the prisons, fails female inmates

To bring a Nova Scotia-shot film home to Halifax is important for co-director Ariella Pahlke, but to spark some real conversation is the main goal.

Filmmakers Pahlke, Nance Akerman and Teresa MacInnes came together for this project, to present about a topic close to them.

“We wanted to take on something big, and we always appreciated the approaches of one another as directors. We explored topics for a few years, but kept coming back to (prisoners’ rights advocate) Kim Pate,” said Pahlke.

“She’s such a powerful speaker, and it became important to take on the questions she was raising as to why prisons don’t work. She was compelling, and this was an interesting thing to look at.”

They three directors began asking the women at Burnside’s Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility a simple question: What it would have taken for them to not end up in prison?

“This film is an exploration of what’s missing in society when it comes to supports. This is less about a broken prison system, and more about society.”

From addiction and trauma to poverty and mental health issues, prisoners were encouraged to tell their truth through art: whether that be painting, photography, their own filmmaking or poetry, the medium was up to them.

“We spent a lot of time working directly with these women. We worked collaboratively and ensured they knew this was totally voluntary. We never pushed with questions, and they got to choose what to share and the medium through which to share it,” said Pahlke.

This method of giving the female inmates — and newly released women — authorship on how to tell their stories proved effective, and the film was an official selection for the 2019 Hot Docs.

“We had some great screenings, and those involved got to see the film. It was a great opportunity to celebrate what was accomplished,” she said.

Now, with one sold out theatre and another one selling tickets at FIN International Atlantic Film Festival, the director can’t wait to screen it again.

“Those we work with who were affected by these issues can get their message out there. The public can see this and this can expand not just screenings of the film, but the conversation around this. We want this to have an impact.”

The film plays Monday, September 16 at 6:30 p.m. at Park Lane Cineplex.

Following the film, the Conviction team will hold a reception and exhibition of art at 8:45 p.m. at the Dalhousie School of Architecture. 


  1. Work with affected by issues, get message public, expand not just film shown but stat conversations, get engaged, have an impact.

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