Sentenced to death, Kenneth has survived decades of imprisonment in complete isolation. Love and art have freed him from his chains. He found a purpose in life, when all signs of hope seemed lost.
In solitary confinement for the last 25 years, Kenneth has pushed back the walls of his cell to become a painter, a poet, the founder of a non-profit, and an art event organizer – while fighting at the same time for justice. At age 18, Kenneth Reams was convicted for capital murder without firing a bullet. He became the youngest inmate on Arkansas death row.
Alongside art, the film shows how love can cross barbed wire and the length of an ocean in Kenneth’s love for Isabelle, a French artist who wants to become his wife.
While Arkansas rushes to execute ten inmates in ten days – an absolute American record – the film captures Kenneth’s struggle, with unprecedented access to his daily battle, and raises universal questions – How can we fight injustice? How can we continue to move forward and find a sense of purpose in life?
FREE MEN is a film for all those who have thought, one day, of giving up.
SCREENINGS & AWARDS
2018 – World Premiere: FIFDH Film festival and international forum on human rights (FIFDH), Geneva (Switzerland)
2018 Montreal Black IFF
2018 DocsMx Festival Internacional de Cine Documental de la Ciudad de México – Compétition “Retratos”
2018 Almost There Festival – Beirut, Lebanon
2018 Austin Film Festival (USA Premiere)
2018 International Film Festival of Algiers (FICA)
2019 FIGRA | Festival International du Grand Reportage d’Actualité , Saint-Omer (FR)
2019 Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art Arkansas
2019 FICDH Argentina
2019 Salem Fest (USA)
- Special Award of the Jury Documentaries, International Film Festival of Algiers (FICA) 2018
- Champ-Dollon Jury Prison Award, FIFDH 2018
DIRECTORS’S BIOGRAPHY & FILMOGRAPHY
Anne-Frédérique Widmann is a Swiss investigative reporter and documentary filmmaker.
Formerly, she was U.S. correspondent for European media, co-editor-in-chief, anchor of the current affairs documentary program Temps Présent and head of the investigative team of the French Swiss National Television and Radio RTS.
With New-York Times editorial cartoonist Chappatte, she co-founded the art & documentation project Windows on Death Row. www.windowsondeathrow.comA Bright Light – Karen and the Process is her first feature-length documentary.
FONDS JUIFS, LES VICTIMES ATTENDENT TOUJOURS (Jewish Funds, The Victims Still Await) with Jean-Bernard Menoud, Temps Présent, RTS, 2004, 52’
L’ANTICHAMBRE DU RENVOI (The Antechamber of Dismissal) with Marcel Schüpbach, Temps Présent, RTS, 2004, 26’ Immersion at the Frambois detention centre in Geneva.
SOHA, RETOUR AU PAYS DU HEZBOLLAH (Soha, Return to the Land of Hezbollah) with Jean-Bernard Menoud, RTS, 2006, 45’. A report in the South of Lebanon the day after the war between Israel and the Lebanese Hezbollah.
INFIRMIERES BULGARES: LE GRAND MARCHANDAGE (Bulgarian Nurses: The Great Negotiation) with Marie-Laure Widmer Baggiolini, Temps Présent, RTS, 2007, 52’. Investigation into the release of ten Bulgarian nurses detained for the duration of ten years in Libya. Projection of documentary at closing night of FIGRA 2007.
DIPLOMATES SUISSES DANS LE PIEGE COLOMBIEN (Swiss Diplomats in the Colombian Trap) with Marie-Laure Widmer Baggiolini, Temps Présent, RTS, 2009, 52’. The story of Jeanne-Pierre Gontard, the mediator of the DFAE (Swiss Embassy) in Colombia. Selected at FIGRA. 1st prize Nicolas Bouvier 2009
ŒIL POUR ŒIL : LA VENGEANCE DE KHADAFI (Eye For An Eye: Khadafi’s Vengeance) with Marie-Laure Widmer Baggiolini, Coulisse de l’événement, RTS, 2014, 62’. The secret story behind the release of two Swiss hostages in Libya. Selected for the Prix Europa 2014. Selected and finalist on the short list of Prix Italia 2014.
In 2015, I ended up on the phone with Kenneth Reams. He’d heard about the project I was organizing with The New York Times editorial cartoonist Chappatte, Windows on Death Row,
an exhibition of paintings by inmates on death row. “ Your idea is interesting. My organization has just recently
put up an exhibition in Little Rock, Arkansas. But to change the American people’s opinion, you have to take it a step further. We have to create a national museum to tell the history of capital punishment. That’s my goal. Perhaps we
can work together on this?”. His voice is upbeat. Kenneth tells me about the non-profit organization he founded and
its website: it is called Who Decides.
On the other end of the line, he sounds like an anti-death penalty activist, sitting behind his computer. It turns out, Kenneth Reams is talking to me from his prison cell. “Think about it and we’ll be in touch ”, he says before hanging up.
Is this real? I rush to my computer, find his organization, his committee of directors, the museum project and even a video
of one of his openings, posted on YouTube. Kenneth is not bluffing. How has he managed to orchestrate all this, from the confines of his tiny prison cell?
In the following weeks, I met Ndume Olatushani who spent 28 years in prison, 20 of which on death row before being freed in 2012. Art and love has kept him standing along all those years.
This film in a sense came looking for me. Kenneth and Ndume, two charismatic and extraordinary characters who
have drawn upon unusual, inner resources, giving them the strength to survive a life of imprisonment and a destiny cut short. Their stories are filled with hope. From the very depths of death row, they give us a valuable life lesson. Their fight and determination to remain free men at all costs is at the heart of this film.
Do we all possess such strength, somewhere deep inside us?
PRODUCER’S BIOGRAPHY & FILMOGRAPHY
Luc Peter, Born in 1963. Studied Political Science at the Geneva University (Bachelor in 1986 and Master in 1989). Cinema studies at the Ecole Cantonale d’Art in Lausanne (1994). Directed numerous documentary features, amongst which CHRISTIAN MARCLAY (2000), LA RIBOT DISTINGUIDA (2004), MAGIC RADIO (2007), BROKEN LAND (2014), DREAMERS (2021) as well as documentaries for TV shows. Since 2001, producer at Intermezzo Films.
Intermezzo Films was founded in 1993 to produce feature and documentary films in a spirit of freedom and artistic standards, to foster innovative and creative movies. The company is committed to be an independent entity, close to the films it produces.With more than 50 films, Intermezzo Films is today one of the leading production companies in French-speaking Switzerland.
With Kenneth Reams,Ndume Olatushani,Isabelle Watson Reams,George Kendall
Director Anne-Frédérique Widmann
Production Intermezzo Films, Luc Peter / RTS – Radio Télévision Suisse Unité des Films Documentaires, Irène Challand et Gaspard Lamunière / Globe Cartoon, Patrick Chappatte
Production assistants Catherine Müller, Elodie Bieri, Katia Monla Guisolan, Karla Kolder
Director of Photography Karim Amin
Sound Nicolas Binggeli / Carlos Ibanez Diaz
Editing Ana Acosta
Music composition Costanza Francavilla
Music Publishing ZerOKilled Music
Musicians Costanza Francavilla: synthétiseurs, programmation, électroniques, basses, hang, piano / Stefano Cabrera: violoncelle / Kathleen Supové: piano / Davide Swarup: handpan (on end credits)
Piano recording Threshold Recording Studios NYC
Editing assistants Gabriel Gonzales , Juliana Fanjul
Sound editing Carlos Ibañez Diaz, Techniques cinéma Genève
Mix Martin Stricker, Le Bruit Qui Court
Additional mix Fabrizio Bacherini, Costanza Francavilla
Pro Tools Assistant & musical transcription Claudio Pezzotta
Music Mastering Rafael Anton Irisarri , Black Knoll Studio NYC
Post-production Superviser Giorgio D’Imperio
Conformation & mastering Jean-Charles Weber
Colorgrading Boris Rabusseau
Infographism Berenice Rogazy
Website Jeff Gaudinet, Raphaël Arbuz
Translations Nina Kaelin
With the participation of Cinéforom
And the support of La Loterie Romande
With the supports of
Fonds culturel SUISSIMAGE
Pour-cent culturel Migros : Postproduction
Succès passage antenne SRG SSR