Different Roads, Same Paths

“For me, the camera would be looking at an 8 or 9 year old boy… and he’s looking at Pendleton Penitentiary.”  For the second week of its Winter 2019 season, Pure Nonfiction at IFC showcased the new HBO documentary, It’s A Hard Truth, Ain’t It, a fascinating story of five inmates at an Indiana penitentiary creating their own film, based on their own life stories.

The film follows inmates Dennis, Rushawn, Franklin, Cliff and Quentis as they explore each other’s histories to create a documentary, and find that, as Cliff says, “all of us come from different places, but our stories are so similar.”  When Rushawn is asked what the title of his life story could be, he simply replies “What if?” - a sentiment that unites all five men. Once they complete their interviews, they discuss the film’s finale, debating whether to include the crimes that caused their incarceration.  They decide to, and Dennis hammers the point home by explaining that, no matter what other profession he obtains, to the public, he “will always be a murderer first,” a heartbreaking sentiment for both the inmates and the audience.

The team behind the film, in the Q&A following the screening, reinforced that they wanted the focus on the inmates all along.  Director Madeleine Sackler expressed that she “really wanted to do it as a partnership with people who were going through the experiences themselves.”   Producer Stacey Reiss remarked how grateful she was that the film “humanized and put a face on five people whose stories are representative of so many who are incarcerated.”  Regarding the conversation about how best to follow the vision of the five men, editor Leigh Johnson said “A lot of it was really following breadcrumbs of what they had already told us, and really try to take responsibility for that and try to do it the way they wanted to.”

It’s A Hard Truth, Ain’t It makes its debut on HBO’s streaming platforms on Saturday, February 23rd and will make it over-the-air debut on Monday, February 25th.  More information on the film is available here: https://www.hbo.com/documentaries/its-a-hard-truth-aint-it