In 1991, four African-American teenagers made the choice to engage in a series of robberies without considering how the consequences of their actions would irrevocably alter their lives. Although no one was physically injured these young men received sentences of up to 500 years.
From 2006-2013, director John Lucas follows the unfathomable journeys of Charlie Kelly, Donovan Harris, Richard “Poochie” Roderick and Frankie Porter as they cope and survive despite the harsh realities of prison. THE COOLER BANDITS documents these men in their respective stages of incarceration as they fight to maintain relationships with family and friends, and reintegrate into society after spending their adult lives incarcerated.
Through candid, intimate interviews and Cinéma vérité, Lucas captures the strength, dignity and resolve these men possess in the face of being branded “felons” for life. Released after 20 years in prison, Charlie works hard to secure his barber’s license in hopes of one day opening his own shop – to be named after his deceased younger brother. Donovan spent nearly 13 years behind bars and now struggles to hold on to his small business and provide for his family during the worst recession in 80 years. Poochie, a convert to Islam and an autodidact, is released after 20 years and pursues his dream of a college education. Frankie’s loving and supportive family endures agony as they pray and wait for his first parole hearing in 2035, at which point he’ll be 63.
Dispensing with mundane crime statistics and rates of incarceration amongst black men, this deeply affecting documentary is a testament to the humanity of four friends who continue to pursue a chance to lead productive and meaningful lives.
“It was one of the most beautiful and heartbreaking things I’ve ever seen… I found the film deeply clear and humane; it’s a stunning argument (not a polemic) against the retributive and racist elements of the judicial system, and a moving (but unsentimental) account of their lives. I consider myself rather thick-skinned, but I had to pause the film several times because I found it too painful. You come to care about the people so much.” — Adam Plunkett, The New Republic
“I have a dozen reasons to tell you why this is real, but I’ll just give you one – these four men went into prison at 18 and 19 years old. They maintained their friendship, their sense of self, and really their commitment to believing that they were more than their worst moments. But this documentary is real because it just presents their life. It’s not a pitch, it’s just the world that you’ve ignored, the humanity that we’ve ignored.” — Reginald Dwayne Betts, member of President Obama’s Coordinating Council on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention
Directed and produced by John Lucas; produced by Sam Pollard, Claudia Rankine, Duncan MacLean, Tracy Biga MacLean and Julie Janata; Executive Producer: Allison Coudert; Editor: Jason Pollard; Director of Photography: John Lucas; Composer: Kathyrn Bostic; Music Editor: Jason Pollard; RT: 106 mins; 2014.
THE COOLER BANDITS to screen at festivals throughout the US:
Harlem International Film Festival (New York City) – Thursday, September 11th
The Global Peace Film Festival (Orlando, FL) – Saturday, September 20th Sunday, September 21st
Justice on Trial Film Festival (Long Beach, CA) – Friday, September 26th
Greater Cleveland Urban Film Festival (Cleveland, OH) – Friday, September 26th