Follow Me Down: Portraits of Louisiana Prison Musicians
UnionDocs (322 Union Ave., Brooklyn)
$9 suggested donation
Follow Me Down is a feature-length documentary about music in prison. Shot over the course of two years in three Louisiana prisons, Georgetown ethnomusicologist Ben Harbert weaves together interviews and performances of extraordinary inmate musicians—some serving life sentences, some new commits and one soon to be released. The result plays like a concert film, but instead of bright lights and big stages, these musicians rap in okra fields, soothe themselves with R&B in lockdown and create gospel harmonies on the yard. With unprecedented access and Harbert’s insistence on letting the music speak for itself, the film offers an unexpected look at prison life, pushing viewers to reach their own conclusions about music, criminality and humanity.
Decades ago, folklorists visited Louisiana prisons to collect disappearing work songs. Follow Me Down returns to the prisons to ask the question, what is the role of music in prison today? The three acts of the documentary offer different perspectives. At Angola Prison, older lifers seek redemption through song. Yet, the father of Angola’s gospel scene has lost faith in music’s promise. At the Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women, apprehensive newcomers audition for the choir. Through these women, we see how music offers hope and community. At Hunt Prison, inmates struggle to maintain their music club despite the unpredictability of administrative support and member commitments. We travel through these prisons as would inmates. Stories are unresolved and mysteries remain. One thing, however, is undeniably clear: the powerful impact of music on those who create it.