Memphis Filmmakers Take on School-to-Prison Pipeline with Juvenile Documentary


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Memphis documentarians Joann Self-Selvidge and Sarah Fleming are teaming up to produce a documentary examining America's flawed juvenile justice system from the point of view of the people who are affected by it firsthand.

“This is not the first time I’ve addressed the justice system in my documentary work, but it is the first time I’ve taken this deep of a dive,” says Self-Selvidge, whose last film See The Keepers, which she created with Sara Kaye Larson, won the Hometowner award at the Indie Memphis Film Festival in 2015.

Self-Selvidge has been working on Juvenile for three years, after a conversation with  public defender Stephen Bush alerted her to a trend of innovative reforms that were being tried all over the country. Fleming and Self-Selvidge's short film "Viola: A Mother's Story" served as a jumping-off point for the feature project, which the filmmakers say will explore "how brain science, constitutional rights, and smart on crime economics are being used in efforts to disrupt the cradle-to-prison pipeline."

“For the people who get caught up in the system, the narratives that are out there about the “bad kids”…are narratives that have not been constructed by the people who are directly impacted," says Self-Selvidge. “When we have so many narratives that are out there about the mothering of children who are living right down the street from us, we forget. It becomes so easy to vilify the people we aren’t brave enough to listen to."

Self-Selvidge says the film will feature stories of five kids who have been through the juvenile justice system in various parts of the country. “They’re all trying to make sense of what happened to them.”

After more than 30 interviews, three of the five subjects have been chosen in rural Missouri, Atlanta, and Brooklyn. Self-Selvidge and Fleming plan to find additional subjects in the Chicago area and the West Coast. The directors are currently engaged in a crowdfunding campaign on Seed and Spark to complete the three-year preproduction process.

“This is hard stuff to fix," says Self-Selvidge. “The people who have the solutions that are going to work are the people who are closest to the problem...The different points of view in our movie are not politicized. It’s not liberal vs conservative. We have people speaking from the point of view of the victims and survivors of crime, and people speaking from the point of view of the justice-involved. Many times, they’re in the same family, or they’re the same people. People are victimized before they become offenders. Hurt people hurt people. Healed people heal people.”

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