VOICES BEYOND THE WALL
TWELVE LOVE POEMS FROM THE MURDER CAPITAL OF THE WORLD
Founded twenty-five years ago in San Pedro Sula, a Central American city infamous for its poverty and violence, Our Little Roses is the only girls’ orphanage in Honduras. Seventy girls, ages 1-18, have found refuge there from broken and destitute homes, murderous streets, and the neighboring Bordo, the worst slum in the Americas. Inside twenty foot high concrete walls topped with barb wire, they receive medical attention, food, shelter, and the nurturing care of a vibrant and entirely female collective of other “Desechables”. (a slang word for orphans- also used for ‘disposable containers’).
"Voices Beyond the Wall" explores the question: how do those subjected to profoundest trauma and rejection begin to heal themselves and change the course of their lives? It bears witness to the catharsis that occurs when marginalized adolescent girls are encouraged to find their voices, in poetry and their own words. In the winter of 2012, Spencer Reece, an award winning American poet and Episcopal priest, came to live at the home for a year. On a Fulbright grant to teach the girls poetry and help them create a book of their own work, he found himself immersed in a profoundly challenging environment. His attempts to teach the girls were largely rebuffed- poetry is too difficult, personal, and boring they insist. Who would want to read about their lives anyway? Oh and Padre, we don’t like the words ‘orphan’ or ‘orphanage.’ We call ourselves “Chavas”. And we call this place home.
Home is both setting and subject of the film. What happens when a home is lost? What is needed to rebuild one? And the difficulty of growing up, leaving, and creating a home of one’s own. At the end of Spencer’s year, a book of the girls’ poems has taken shape and he returns to the United States to edit and publish it. The writings are moving and complex, operating both as emotional touchstone and an inspiration for the mosaic structure of the film itself. The range of subjects are varied but return often to the nature of love and family, the pain of betrayal, and the mothers they lost or never had. Always a central back-drop is the frightening world that awaits them outside the thick steel gate. So when two of the 18 year olds graduate from the home, the film follows them out into the mean streets of the city. They both face the hard reality of a deeply challenged university system, the long hours of grinding, low paid jobs, and a society where the lives of girls and women are routinely denigrated and at risk. Like prodigal daughters, these now two educated and aspiring young women have returned to the maelstrom that cast them out over a decade before. They will endeavor to build a future in a place from which many of their peers are fleeing northwards in the hopes of re-writing the grim narrative that has made their homeland the murder capital of the world. The fate of both of them will remain, like Honduras itself, hanging in the balance. What will endure, indelibly, are lives expressed in poetry- written, spoken and lived out before our eyes. This film, like the poems within it, opens a door to an intimate universe. Voices will be heard, clearly and at long last, by a country that had no place for them and a world that, until now, has turned a deaf ear. For in the histories and hearts of these girls resonate quandaries that have drawn poets for millennia and are no less vital today. And in their emerging voices and lives there is something else revealed: a hope and a challenge; that the world might be home to us all.
Brad began his film career when
his short “Victims of Circumstance” received the Best Film award at the NYU Film Festival. He has worked as a screenwriter and script doctor as well as in film production, on both documentary and narrative feature films. He has created many socially minded projects including Little People Productions, an innovative/ moviemaking workshop for children on the Passamaquoddy Reservation in Washington County, Maine. Coley’s feature debut, “The Undeserved” can be seen on IFC/Sundance Channel and he recently completed his second feature East of Acadia. Coley's awards include The Leo Jaffe Prize and W.T. Johnson Fellowship Award.
Elise DuRant is a New York City based filmmaker. She began her career in the editing rooms of such notable filmmakers as Spike Lee and Woody Allen. She has edited various projects—feature films, documentaries, television programs—amongst them the award winning documentary Lost and Found in Mexico directed by first time filmmaker Caren Cross; El Luchador, an A&E docu-reality on Mexican wrestlers; and Los Invisibles, a one hour television program produced by Gael Garcia Bernal on the immigrant experience in Mexico. (credit for photo: Alejandro Arteaga)
Kevin is a documentary film editor and sound recordist based in Berkeley, CA who got his start recording sound for Albert Maysles of the Maysles Brothers. He has since worked as Editor and Assistant Editor on several short and feature-length documentaries including The Genius of Marian, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2013 and Real Boy, a feature documentary following transgender musician Bennett Gwizdalski. He also conducts and records oral history interviews across the country for StoryCorps, a Peabody Award- winning non-profit organization dedicated to preserving the stories of everyday Americans in sound at the Library of Congress.
James is an American actor and filmmaker. His first prominent acting role was the lead character Daniel Desario on the short-lived cult hit television program Freaks and Geeks. He later played the title character in the TV biographical film James Dean(2001), for which he won a Golden Globe Award. For his role in 127 Hours (2010), Franco was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor. He is also known for his roles in Spider-Man, Pineapple Express (2008), Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011), Spring Breakers (2012), and Oz the Great and Powerful (2013) and other films, as well as TV roles in General Hospital and 11.22.63. In 2014, he made his Broadway debut in Of Mice and Men.
DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY
Carmen is a California native, Brooklyn-based director of photography, producer and visual artist. From Lupus patients in Puerto Rico, to Spanish teachers in California, she has created stunning visual accents to stories across the globe. She has shot feature length documentaries (Shallow Waters: The Public Death Of Raymond Zack, Soledad, Las Chavas), short films (“Unplanned”, “Unstill Life”), music videos and commercials for clients such as Google, Adobe, HP, Puma, Sephora, Chase and The City of New York. Her work has been screened at film festivals around the world including the Toronto Film and Music Festival and the European Film Festival. She is currently shooting and producing four feature length documentaries entitled Supergirl, Soledad, and Las Chavas.
Seth Anderson has edited feature length and short films to much acclaim. His work as editor on “Speed for Thespians” helped earn the film an Academy Award nomination in the Best Short Film category. Anderson has edited numerous features including “Frank the Bastard” and “The Undeserved” for Brad Coley, horror film “Mercy” for Netflix and ”Paper Soldiers” for Universal Pictures. He has also edited television, including series for NBC, ABC, Bravo, Discovery, and TLC. He edited “Gina, an Actress Age 29,” which won Best Short Film at the Sundance Film Festival in 2001. A graduate of NYU, Anderson’s first film job was working as an apprentice editor for Ang Lee on “Sense and Sensibility.” He lives in the New York area.
Cassidy first established himself as a story-teller reporting the news for over ten years, before transitioning to directing and producing documentaries as a way to engage more creatively with each story. Since founding his production company, Stories Matter Media, Cassidy has directed a score of documentary shorts, including Unstill Life, an Official Selection of the 2014 Long Island International Film Expo and The SoCal Creative & Innovative Film Festival. Cassidy also directed and produced the feature-length documentaries Soledad and Circles, both currently in post-production. He is a Film Independent Fast Track fellow, Film Independent Docs Lab fellow, and Points North fellow.
Beth Custer is a San Francisco based composer/musician who has scored the films of William Farley, Brad Coley, Cathy Lee Crane, Julie Wyman, Melinda Stone, Koohan Paik, KQED's Independent View, and CBS's The Twisted Tales of Felix the Cat. She has composed for the contemporary chamber groups Left Coast Chamber Ensemble, Zeitgeist, Turtle Island and Kronos String Quartets; for the theatre productions of California Shakespeare, Overtone Industries, Campo Santo, San Diego Repertory, Cornerstone, and Magic Theatres; for the dance troupes Joe Goode Performance Group, AXIS Dance Company, and Roco Dance. She is currently composing an oratorio entitled Water Worship about the use, misuse, and regeneration of our most precious resource.
Residing in New York City for the past several decades, Kurt Ossenfort has worked in film and video as a production designer, director of photography, editor, director and producer. He is currently traveling to obscure corners of world recording its sights and sounds, revisiting a past life steeped in abstract moving images and ambient audio.
MIAMI FILM FESTIVAL
MARCH 5th 2017 at 3PM
VOICES BEYOND THE WALL will be screened at the Miami Film Festival on March 5th 2017 at 3PM at the MDC TOWER THEATER in Miami. Go to: miamifilmfestival.com for tickets.
The mission of Miami Film Festival is to bridge cultural understanding and encourage artistic development by provoking thought through film. By bringing the best of world cinema to Miami, the Festival presents the city and the film industry with a singular platform that fosters creative and technical talent.
Voices Beyond the Wall:
THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER
Film Review | Miami 2017
1:24 PM PDT 3/15/2017 by Sheri Linden
A documentary executive produced by James Franco captures the interactions of an American poet and his class of teenage girls at a Honduran orphanage.
Their parents have abandoned them, and they live in the most crime-wracked city in Central America, but the girls who appear in Voices Beyond the Wall have good fortune, too. It’s evident from the film that they’re exceptionally well educated and cared for at the orphanage where they’re being raised, and that they’ve formed deep sisterly bonds. And for the small group of teen residents who are the heart of the lyrical and engaging documentary, their poetry classes with a visiting instructor are a chance to explore and express complex emotions — to release them, as one girl puts it.
Subtitled Twelve Love Poems From the Murder Capital of the World, the eloquent film is the first nonfiction work by Brad Coley, who wrote and directed the narrative features The Undeserved and Frank the Bastard. He takes viewers into the safe haven of Nuestras Pequeñas Rosas (Our Little Roses) in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, a city that led the globe in homicides for several recent years, until it was surpassed by Caracas, Venezuela. In 2012, when San Pedro Sula still held the dubious title, poet and Episcopal priest Spencer Reece traveled there on a Fulbright grant to teach poetry and English.
Executive produced by James Franco — who turned Reece’s poem “The Clerk’s Tale” into a short film — the doc is engrossing and intimate. Thanks to the fluent work of Coley, cinematographer Carmen Osterlye and editors Elise DuRant and Seth Anderson, it turns meaning and meter into a dynamic synthesis, as any good poem does.
Voices interweaves the poems that the girls write (which will be collected in a book) with their stories, hopes and dreams, told directly to the camera (many speak English). They discuss what it means to share and to trust, and what it means to be abandoned. One girl thought she was only visiting the orphanage when her mother dropped her off there, never to return; another was told she was going to a party. “It hurts to know that I was deceived by my mother,” she says. Reece is struck by the theme of forgiveness that runs through their writing. But it’s hardly the stuff of ribbons and butterflies; their language is precise and hard-hitting.
Dressed in casual, nonclerical threads and called Spencer by the girls, Reece uses such greats as Emily Dickinson, W.H. Auden and Elizabeth Bishop to spark searching conversations about craft, creativity and identity. Given the option of having their poems published anonymously, some girls choose to withhold their names, while others embrace the chance to go public. The film honors these wishes by not attaching names to faces; only in the end credits are the poets identified — or not, as the case may be.
Coley captures the family bonds among Our Little Roses’ 60 residents, from the smallest day-to-day interactions to Christmas celebrations and such milestones as quinceañeras and graduation. (There are scenes in church, but the NGO’s Christian teachings are never discussed; the spotlight belongs to creative writing and art.). Some girls look forward to independence, but none to leaving the embrace of this nurturing home. A 17-year-old who will be leaving the next year says, “I’m not sure if the world will love me like this place.”
The specialness of that place is clear. It’s accentuated, by heartrending comparison, when Coley follows two girls on their visit to a former resident. After multiple escapes from the private facility, Carolina lives in a government orphanage, apparently by order of the courts. It’s a prisonlike cinder-block complex that’s crowded with despondent kids, and her sorrowful longing for the place she once considered a prison couldn’t be more apparent. She describes the sleeping arrangements — 20 or 30 to a room — the punishment cell, the rats. There’s no mention of schooling, let alone enrichment programs like Reece’s class. “And when do you play?” one of her visitors asks, perhaps too pointedly.
The film offers telling glimpses of the city surrounding Our Little Roses: soldiers in the streets, a car pockmarked by bullets, the hillside landmark of a giant Coca-Cola sign. Like images in a poem, they instantly convey the complex truths of present-day gang terror and a nation’s colonial history. The latter finds further expression in the wonderfully rich language of excerpts from a play by one of the girls, which speaks of Honduras as a beautiful pink orchid and Spain as a witch with “a ridiculous lisp.”
Coley’s film reveals a thriving oasis in troubled territory. It captures an inspiring connection between Reece and his students, whether they’re discussing love and loss or exploring meter through Auden and salsa dancing. It’s the connection between language and life.
Production company: Stories Matter Media
Director: Brad Coley
Producer: Cassidy Friedman
Executive producer: James Franco
Director of photography: Carmen Osterlye
Editors: Elise DuRant, Seth Anderson
Composer: Beth Custer