Bring Down the Walls (2020)

Bring Down the Walls
Director: Phil Collins
Part of: this human world Film Festival
Seen on: 12.12.2020

Right in Manhattan, there is an old firestation that has been transformed into a communal center. During the day, it is an educational space, offering political workshops and talks. During the night, it becomes a club playing house music. The thing that unites those halves is the prison-industrial complex in the USA as the center gives space to former inmates to share their experiences, to activists to campaign for prison abolishment and traces the way house music was developed by Black and Latinx communities as a form of liberation.

Bring Down the Walls takes a look at the strength that lies in community, activism and music, especially when they come together. It is an unusual perspective on the prison-industrial complex, but a welcome one.

The film poster showing the back of a Black head with short hair.

I was not aware of the history of house music and how much it is tied to Black and Latinx communities. I was much more aware of the (racist) problems with the prison-industrial complex and what it means for BIPOC in the USA. Both house music and mass incarceration in the modern sense saw their start at around the same time.

For Bring Down the Walls, this is not a coincidence. It connects the dots between those two parts, making an eloquent statement about the strength that lies in music and dance, how freeing it can be to move freely within a community and expressing yourself like this, opening a space for marginalized people who both figuratively and literally lack space and freedom.

A group of men sitting in a circle surrounded by instruments.

This historical perspective is enriched with glimpses of the workshops held in the community center that focus on social justice and often include people who were incarcerated themselves There were also scenes from what appeared to be a self-help group of inmates that I couldn’t place properly in context, but that nevertheless provided interesting insights.

In short, I really enjoyed this documentary – there really was a sense of joy here that is rather unexpected for a documentary about prisons. Maybe I’ll make it to New York myself one day and hopefully, the center will still be going strong then – I would like to visit it.

Two women giving a talk at the center.

Summarizing: very nice.

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