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Hot Docs 2024: Qs à la mode with… Lucas Guilkey & JoeBill Muñoz (The Strike)

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Co-directors Lucas Guilkey and JoeBill Muñoz chronicle the hunger-strike efforts undertaken by California prison inmates to protest solitary-confinement practices in the state in The Strike. We posed our Qs à la mode to Luca and JoeBill, and here’s what they shared!

 

If we had to describe our film using only three adjectives, they would be: Inspiring, surprising, poignant.

We decided to make this film because: Lucas first came to this story in 2013 when he was filming with the families of the men protesting solitary confinement. It was when hearing how long term isolation not only impacted the incarcerated men, but their families, that Lucas thought a deeper story needed to be told. JoeBill joined later when some of the hunger strikers were released from solitary confinement, then from prison altogether. Meeting those men and hearing their stories left such a lasting mark that propelled the next five years of making the film.

The thing that surprised us most about our film’s subject/topic was: In doing our research about California’s system of solitary confinement, we delved into the state’s prison archives. There, we learned the general logic of how California came to build a supermax prison, Pelican Bay — intended for mass-scale isolation — and the internal processes used to send so many incarcerated men to solitary. Even more surprising, was that these men weren’t just sent there for fixed terms, but the intention of the system was to keep them there indefinitely, which resulted in people spending decades of their lives in isolation cells.

The toughest part of the shoot was: The most complicated thing we did was build a solitary confinement cell with the exact specs to the one at Pelican Bay State Prison. It took us a lot of research and preparation, but with the help of a great designer and team, we pulled it off.

Our favorite moment/scene/sequence in our film is: The final one. Without spoiling too much, the film ends with a beautiful wedding, and vows between two surprise characters. It still gets us every time!

Our most invaluable piece of doc-making equipment was/is: A water bottle! Staying hydrated on long shoots is key.

One piece of documentary-filmmaking advice we’d like to share with aspiring documentarians is: If you’ve been working on a project for a long time, keep at it! Lucas had been working on this idea for about ten years, and he and JoeBill together worked on it for five years. At times, it didn’t seem like we would get enough funding to keep it going, but we just kept asking people to reject us multiple times until finally we got enough yeses. At the same time, if you find yourself stuck, maybe it makes sense to reach out to a friend for help. We can’t recommend collaboration enough; it’s inherent in the practice of making documentary films, and in the independent world, when you’re wearing so many hats, it’s nice to have someone to share the load with.

 

Want to check out their film, or just learn more about it?
Get the scoop, and your tickets, here!

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