Meet The East Hill Singers. They’re a chorus comprised of inmates from Lansing Correctional Facility and volunteer singer/mentors from the community. The choir director has dedicated himself to proving the power of music and showing the men that they can achieve something.The men perform everything from traditional choral to contemporary to a “rap of redemption”, written by a medium-security inmate convicted of a gang murder.

photo by Katie Kritikos

Today we wanted to share this with you guys: There is currently a documentary in the works about the choir called Conducting Hope and they need our help. The film’s producer, Margie Friedman, is a well-established television executive and supervising producer who began her career in news and has gone on to produce numerous primetime and cable series and specials. David Grabias, the director, is an Award-winning documentary filmmaker with over a decade of experience. David has directed numerous programs that have aired internationally on PBS, A&E, Discovery, FX, Travel Channel, and National Geographic.

We spoke with producer Margie Friedman about the film, art in prison, and how we can help this film be seen.

What led you to film/television? Any specific inspirations for you?
I’ve always been drawn toward interesting stories and people.

Is it true that you have to sell your soul to make it in the entertainment industry in L.A.?
I’ve been very fortunate to have worked on some wonderful programs with terrific people. As with every business, you like some experiences more than others.

I’ve always thought that the role of producer must be a pretty satisfying one – to know that you played a hand in getting all these people together to create something that wouldn’t have existed otherwise. What have been some of your proudest moments?
My favorite moment was for an NBC Saturday morning show called, “Name Your Adventure.” We took a 16-year old girl who had escaped Vietnam to spend the day at the White House with her role model, press secretary, Dee Dee Myers. President Clinton surprised her with an invitation to the Oval Office. The girl later became an intern at the White House.

Tell us about the documentary.
Conducting Hope is a documentary film that tells the story of the East Hills Singers at Lansing Correctional Facility outside Kansas City. The all-male minimum-security choir is the only secular prison choir in the country that performs outside prison gates. The choir is also comprised of singers from the local Kansas City community who serve as musical mentors. The choir director is dedicated to proving the power of music and showing the men that they can achieve something. More than anything, the sense of accomplishment gives them hope.

Today, two-thirds of those will be rearrested within three years and fifty-percent will wind up back in prison. There’s no question that the men who participate in the choir will be released back into society. How they reintegrate ultimately affects everyone.

What would you say to those who would argue that programs like choirs, arts,etc shouldn’t be available to inmates?
Regardless of how one feels about people who commit crimes or the prison system,
ninety-five percent of the inmates in Minimum Security will be released. How they
re-integrate back into society is important. Studies show that inmates who participate in arts programs have a lower rate of recidivism. In the end, that impacts society both
financially and in our communities.

What can we do to help you finish this film?
In order to finish the documentary, we need financial support. In December, we received a small grant from a Kansas based foundation and right now, the project is up on Kickstarter. Our mission right now is to reach our goal on Kickstarter…and then some.

We set a low goal in order to reach it but in fact, we need much more. Every little bit
helps and will us enable us to expand the film ultimately, to an hour. We already have
potential interest from PBS to air the film once it’s completed.

For you, what has it been like to be a part of a project like this?
Being a part of the project has reinforced the notion that little things can make a
difference in people’s lives. It’s also the first time I’ve had to deal with my own
fundraising and that’s been a learning process.

What would you say to any creative artists reading this who want to create something with heart and hope just as you are?

I believe that if you really want to do something, you’ll figure out a way to do it. The media has a tremendous power to influence and impact people. How you use choose to use it is a personal choice.

Click here to pitch in and help make this film happen.

One Comment

  1. Alexavier:

    It’s about time soemone wrote about this.

    6:07 am on July 8th, 2011

Leave a Reply