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Documentary about jailed women who use creative writing as therapy scheduled to premiere

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Finding the Words © 2022
A still from the documentary " Finding the Words: The Story of Voices from Inside"

Free screening is Saturday evening at the Academy of Music in Northampton

A documentary about women who write creatively to overcome their experiences with jail and addiction premieres this Saturday in western Massachusetts.

The film “Finding the Words: The Story of Voices from Inside” will premier Saturday at 7 p.m. at Northampton’s Academy of Music.

The Voices from Inside program has been around since the late 1990s. Filming the documentary began in 2019 with a $15,000 grant from MassHumanities.

Several Holyoke Community College alum and professors are featured on screen. Others worked on the documentary’s production or served as consultants.

Saturday’s premier is sponsored by the Arts Equity Group and the City of Northampton.

Danielle Amadeo is director of the Arts Equity Group and a producer of the documentary.

Danielle Amodeo

“Finding the Words” tells the story of women who are incarcerated, formerly incarcerated, and in recovery in their own words. So, when audiences come to, to see this documentary, they're going to go inside the Franklin County prison system, they're going to go inside the homes of women who have had lived experience with incarceration and addiction. And hopefully, they'll come away from the film with a new perspective and new understanding of the experiences that these women have been through. And our goal certainly is to generate a bit of empathy and understanding for those experiences.

Paul Tuthill 

Tell me about the in- prison program that's being chronicled here?

Danielle Amodeo

Voices from Inside, which we call VFI, is a community organization in which facilitators enter the prison system to lead creative writing workshops for women who are incarcerated. The great thing about this program is that these writing workshops continue once the women are released and come back to their communities. So not only is it a support system for them while they're incarcerated, but it's also a support system for them once they return home. And VFI has also expanded not only to facilitate these creative writing workshops, but also to host performances. So the women can read their stories to audiences, and really, you know, share their experiences in their own words. And it really has an amazing ripple effect within the community. So VFI does great work. There are a lot of other organizations that do amazing wraparound support services for women with with similar experiences as well. We were just really fortunate to partner with VFI to produce this documentary.

Paul Tuthill 

Saturday's premiere will also feature a live discussion with some of the film's participants, correct?

Danielle Amodeo

The women featured in the film, were actually a part of the documentary throughout the process. They met with our film team before we even picked up a camera. They participated in the grant writing process that that made it possible for us to create this film. They participated in, you know, crafting, who would be in the film thinking about the questions that would be asked, they've really been involved throughout the process. And we couldn't have a premiere without having them on stage for q&a, and really introducing them to our audiences.

Paul Tuthill 

What are the plans for this documentary now, after the premiere Saturday? Are you looking to get wider distribution for it?

Danielle Amodeo

Yes, and if anyone listening would like to support that, please feel free to reach out. But in the meantime, our our next group of screenings will be at the local jail systems actually. So we're going back into the prisons where we we filmed and through partnerships with the County Sheriff's Office, and the staff in these prisons, we're going to create screenings for many of the women who can't make it to the premiere in person. So that's step number one. We're also going to be screening it at local colleges and universities. And we created an Interpretive Guide, so that we can share the documentary with anyone who would like to screen it for free. And include this guide, which was created with the women who were were in the film, so that anyone can lead a q&a, anyone can lead a discussion and a really responsible program filled with, you know, rich facts and figures, but also in a way that the women can continue to shape the narrative even after the runtime of the film is over. So we're trying to empower folks to do their own screenings and their own programming with this with this educational resource.

Tickets to Saturday’s premier are free but need to be reserved in advance through the Academy of Music website. The entire the event will be livestreamed by Northampton Open Media.

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.