Herman’s House (2012)

ANGAD BHALLA

Bil’s rating (out of 5):   BBB.

USA/Canada/United Kingdom, 2012.  Cinematography by .  Produced by .  Music by .  Film Editing by .  

When artist Jackie Sumell learned of the story of , she flew into a personal rage that turned into a years-long friendship. Wallace was already incarcerated for for robbery in 1972 when his sentence was extended after he and another inmate were accused and convicted of killing a prison guard. The result of that conviction was his being placed in solitary confinement, where he still resides nearly forty years later, spending 23 hours a day completely alone in a 6×9 foot cell. Sumell’s reaction was twofold: to create an art installation piece which recreates Wallace’s living conditions for audiences to step inside of, and the creation of a virtual reality “dream” home based on Wallace’s description of the home he imagines. The project went one step further when Wallace asked Sumell to actually build the dream home for real and make it a community centre, and true to her commitment to a now solidified friendship with this man, she moves to Angola and starts looking for property to purchase. This original and unusual account of human connection and generosity is made enjoyable by the artist’s own forthcoming personality and the admirable way in which she constantly puts her money where her mouth is. Director Angad Bhalla fails both her and Wallace slightly with a film that is far too short and much too shallow; so much information is hinted at and never explored, as if Bhalla assumes our attention spans are too fleeting or his subjects are not interesting enough to merit more screen time. He’s wrong either way, and finding out more about the backgrounds of these two individuals would be terrific, while the footage revealing the prison system in Louisiana and the history of solitary confinement in incarceration could have been given deeper treatment as well. It feels more like a proposal than a completed film, but it is definitely memorable. Anyone interested in finding out more about Angola Prison should watch Liz Garbus, Wilbert Rideau and Jonathan Stack’s excellent documentary The Farm: Angola USA.

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