Inaya Yusuf On the Importance of Her Prison Theater Documentary ‘The One & The Many’

The One and the Many

Prisoners and performance have gone together for centuries (probably millennia), and documentaries about the pairing continue to be made, none of them yet short of fascinating. There’s the title show that opens Wiseman’s Titicut Follies, the story of a staging of Waiting for Godot at San Quentin in The Impossible Itself and the inmate productions of the Bard in both Shakespeare Behind Bars and Caesar Must Die. Now there’s The One & The Many — or I should say soon there will be this feature film that like Caesar Must Die takes place in an Italian facility.

Filmmaker Inaya Yusuf has just launched a Kickstarter campaign to help fund the documentary, which is still in the shooting stage through this fall. The One & The Many focuses on Compagnia della Fortessa, a theater program at the maximum security prison Volterra, and Armando Punzo, an artist working with the inmates to perform plays by Jean Genet. With a goal of only $40,000, we are hopeful that this project will be funded over the next month. Watch Yusuf’s campaign video below and see some of the footage shot for the film so far.

The One & The Many

We asked Yusuf to go beyond her Kickstarter statement to tell us why she is making The One & The Many, why this is an important documentary and what has she learned most through the process. Here is her answer:

“Often, when one visualizes the prison experience, the first thing that comes to mind is punishment and not rehabilitation. Prior to filming, I encountered and surveyed people about their preconceived notions and knowledge of prison systems. I found that they pay more attention to the encompassing characteristics such as the physical division from the outside and the barrier from social interaction. This is particularly a common mentality for those who are outsiders and not involved in such systems because information is not readily available for us to tap into. Once individuals are admitted to prison, they follow a regimented pattern, which in time may encompass their whole being. Not a lot of systems have programs that collectively inspire diversity. Armando Punzo, however recognizes this undercut and in his own way welcomes charisma and individuality into his theatre program with open arms. It is an open door policy, which makes it enticing for his inmate-actors.

“I came into this project with an open mind and a thirst for adventure. Nothing else. And by that I mean showing up with a blank canvas and the right tools to work with. I knew in advance that I am drawn to the overall creative process and how Armando executes it with Compagnia della Fortezza. Everyday is a new experience, and it’s a learning process not only for Armando, his collaborators and the troupe, but it was the same case for my crew and me. I think his spontaneity and appreciation for perfection is what motivates and drives the entire program to be extremely successful. Through his kindness, humor, charm and generosity, I realized how important it is for a program to have a great leader who treats everyone as equals. One of the most important things I learned from the troupe is comradery. Essentially, they are a support system to one another. Every strength and weakness is worked out together often through humor, but with a mission to overcome boundaries.

“I wanted to make The One & The Many with a mission to remind the audience the role of mindfulness, mentorship and collaboration necessary to produce a successful program. It all boils down to the people and their willingness to create something viable and lively for the wellbeing of all who are involved. My experience with Compagnia Fortezza really opened my eyes to what a prison could potentially be. I strongly believe there is urgency for us to pay closer attention to prison reform and support programs like this to have a stronger presence. Currently, Armando is pushing to extend his work beyond prison walls to build a stable repertory theatre. It is important for programs like this to offer a constructive outlet for their energies and offer a creative outlet for individuals who are re-entering society. I am hoping that The One & The Many can become a readily available platform for people to obtain more information about such initiatives.”

The deadline for the crowdfunding effort for The One & The Many is October 9, 2014. Going by incentive delivery estimates, the expected release for the film is sometime next summer.

(Editor in Chief)

Christopher Campbell is the founding editor of Nonfics.