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Latest Wexner Center for the Arts event tackles social justice issues

The latest Wexner Center for the Arts events highlights the stories of five incarcerated women who wrote and directed their own short films. Credit: courtesy of Wexner Center for the Arts

The Wexner Center for the Arts will showcase a series of short films in the latest installment if its Director’s Dialogue on Art & Social Change series Wednesday.

The event will include a panel discussion and film screening of “Pens to Pictures,” a short film series documenting the lives of five incarcerated women –– who also created the films.

The Director’s Dialogue series is a recurring event that supports the crucial role of contemporary art in sparking dialogue about contemporary issues such as social justice, identity politics and police brutality.

The first project of this academic year, “Pens to Pictures,” is a pioneering project created to teach incarcerated women the art of making films and sharing their own stories.

With popular shows like “Orange is the New Black” being digested by millions every time a new season releases, it’s easy to feel like one can sympathize with their struggles.

“When you meet these women, and hear their stories, you realize the courage it takes to tell these stories,” said Jennifer Lange, film and video studio program curator at the Wexner Center for the Arts. “We live in a bubble here, but they live in a wall with razor wire –– pop the bubble and get to know the person who tore down the wall.”

Lange said the Wexner Center is putting a lot of support and promotion behind this project; not only because the stories are great, but because they were partners in assisting the directors.

“We really supported the project from a very early stage and at the completion. I knew it was an incredible program that I wanted to support in any way I could,” Lange said. “Once I saw the premiere and spent time with the filmmakers, I wanted everyone [in the Ohio State community] to experience this.”

The entire project is made possible by the creator of “Pens to Pictures,” Chinonye Chukwu, an assistant professor of film production at Wright State University, who has been hands-on with the entire process. Chukwu said her intention was to help students shed more light on an issue that doesn’t get enough media attention.

“I want [students] to think about ways to contribute to the world and challenge their own biases,” Chukwu said. “People need to expand their consciousness around the prison-industrial complex and how it affects incarcerated women.”

“Pens to Pictures” collaborated with the Dayton Correctional Institution to guide five incarcerated women through an eight-week, college-level screenwriting course led by Chukwu. She and the five participants then worked through multiple drafts and revisions to create five short, original screenplays.

Once the final scripts were done, Chukwu said she connected local artists and filmmakers, including Wright State film students, with the women to bring their scripts to life. Each of the women were credited as writer and director of their own films, respectively.

“I want students to think, ‘How can I intersect things from class with real-world problems with systemic conditions and pipelines to expand and better understand the context of the prison-industrial complex,?’” she said. “We need to understand it’s not about good and bad people, but for people to see themselves in the stories, the writers and directors.”

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