Photos and Video
Putting the funny on hold, comedian D.L. Hughley stars as Ben Cross, a high school teacher whose mysterious past results in his demotion to an instructor of teen convicts at Shackles, short for Shackleton Academy Prison. Director Charles Winkler gives the adult-must-win-over-teens plotline a visually arresting twist through his use of stylized slow motion, split screen, and sometimes triple screen narratives, all of which lend an energetic rhythm to the storytelling. Shackles is like Oz meets Coach Carter (albeit without the basketball, though, like the HBO series, it even boasts its own poet/griot to help narrate the story). Here the galvanizing tool of choice is poetry. When Ben gets the students to open up about their innermost feelings, it temporarily reinvents the education system at the youth penitentiary. The convicts take part in a jailhouse poetry slam, with the best poet invited to compete in a neighborhood slam on the outside. But on the night of the big event, the long-awaited competition takes a back seat to a highly charged plot twist, as the academy itself comes under mortal threat. With the media, the prisoners, guards, and teachers in attendance, this hotbed of tension can only lead to the most explosive of conclusions.
Director's Statement Collapse
When Donald Martin approached us with a story about the trials and tribulations one of his friends had endured trying to start a GED program for 18-21 year olds in prison, we were riveted. The infighting between the Dept. of Corrections and the Board of Education; the apathy and outright hostility of some of the inmates; the reluctance of the public to spend precious tax dollars; we knew we had the makings of a interesting film. Using these facts as a starting point, we tried to craft a story about the beauty and power of kids learning to express themselves for the first time and the moral rectitude of teachers and administrators fighting for what they believe in. As the script neared completion, I began searching for a visual style that would match the energy and violence of the material. Over the course of many extended script-vetting sessions, my producer Rob Cowan and I discussed the many visual techniques available to filmmakers today and what made them work (or not). The end result of those conversations, with considerable input from my long-time editor Clayton Halsey, DP Roy Wagner and sound designer John Ross is what you see and hear tonight; 24P Hi-Def, hot single-source lighting, aggressive hand-held camera, jump cuts, a lot of multiple images and a fusillade of textured sounds. Our composer Stephen Endelman also took up the mantle, using sounds recorded in prison as the basic building blocks for rhythm tracks as well as the electronic architecture for new digital musical instruments. The slam poetry in the film presented some unique challenges. We needed custom-written poems that could reflect both the characters on-screen struggles as well as the broader themes we were attempting to convey. Jerry Quickley, "Tone" in the movie and our slam-poetry writer, has created a metaphor-dense and allusion-rich exploration of the world seen through the eyes of a 19 year-old kid in a cell. (There will be more, a lot more, of Jerry on the DVD.) That 19 year-old kid in the movie is played by Jose Cantillo. We had never heard of him until his un-solicited audition tape landed on our desk. Now he never stops working. Soon the whole world will know who he is. And yes, that is D.L. Hughley the comedian in the lead. No, he is not telling jokes in the film. What D.L. will tell you is this was the hardest job he's ever had in his life. It was for all of us. We shot this film in the middle of August, for no money and in 20 days. But the film's message and the opportunity to tell a story in a new and different way kept us all going. (That, and a good cappuccino machine too.)
Film Information Collapse
[SHACK] | 2005 | 115 | Narrative Feature
Foreign Title: (Shackles)
About the Director(s)Collapse
Charles Winkler is the son of producer/director Irwin Winkler. After completing a series of shorts and mini-documentaries in his early twenties, he wrote and directed his first feature film You Talkin' to Me? for United Artists in 1987. Since then, Winkler has alternated writing and directing features and movies-of-the-week with episodic television directing assignments, including work on such shows as Beggars and Choosers, Baywatch, The Chris Isaak Show, and Dead at 21. Working with producer Rob Cowan, Winkler co-wrote and directed the award-winning television docudrama Rocky Marciano starring Jon Favreau, Penelope Ann Miller, and George C. Scott. He and Cowan are in production on The Net 2.0, shooting in Istanbul, Turkey. Winkler lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Sandra Nelson, and their two children.