"I want to make this film because it's important. It deals with problems inherent in the U.S. juvenile justice system ... but more important, it tries to tackle the problem, using arts as part of a solution. What problem? The recidivism rate. All sides of the political spectrum - from the most liberal to the most conservative - agree that the recidivism rate is way too high. Families are separated, costs soar. And the underlying issues are many and complex. But here we have a measure of societal outreach that centers on equality and respect. It works. It's doing its part. It can do more if more people knew about it. Accordingly, The Odyssey Project is a story that needs to be told, and I want to tell it. BUT - it takes a few minutes to explain. I hope you find the time, read on and become familiar." - Mark Manning
IN A NUTSHELL
A BRIEF OVERVIEW
This film is about The Odyssey Project, a program run out of Univ of Calif Santa Barbara, created by a professor in their theater department, drawing on his own background growing up in Harlem. It is designed to assist incarcerated juveniles, generally youth of color from disadvantaged backgrounds, and prevent them from continuing on their present path toward a life in prison. It uses the arts to help them rediscover their voices, regenerate self-esteem, and make better choices going forward, so that they don't turn into just another statistic, and a societal cost. And the thing is - it's working. It is actually part of a solution. We think it's an important story that needs to be told, partly because it's happening and it's working, and partly because three institutions have collaborated for the greater good so that it can happen. If this can occur in Santa Barbara - why not elsewhere? ... This Kickstarter seeks to raise the monies necessary to complete production of a feature-length documentary on The Odyssey Project, and to create a template for doing something similar in other U.S. cities.
A LESS BRIEF OVERVIEW ...
The young men (or "the boys") are juveniles - teens serving time in Los Prietos Boys Camp, a SoCal detention center. To participate in The Odyssey Project (or "the program"), they must be selected and they must accept. Those that do, are generally non-violent offenders. As part of the program they are able to leave the facility. They are bused onto the UCSB (Univ of Calif - Santa Barbara) campus, where they are paired with UCSB theater students on a 6-week "curriculum". They rehearse, exchange, and partake in a range of exercises - as peers and collaborators, in theater and art. They are mentored by the faculty and treated equally to the other students. Then they create a stage play (personalizing the theme of Homer's Odyssey), and their work culminates in a performance before a live audience. It changes their lives.
After the live performance, and after they finish serving their sentences, they are presented with a camera. They are asked to use it to self-chronicle their re-integration into society via stills and also video (like filmmakers themselves). Thus, the creative process continues.
The Odyssey Project was founded in 2011 by Michael Morgan, professor of theater at UCSB. Morgan grew up in Harlem and is sensitive to the plight of youth of color born into challenging neighborhoods, and (sometimes) families.The program is made possible by the shared vision and continued cooperation between the university (UCSB), the city/county of Santa Barbara, and a segment of its juvenile criminal justice system (the Los Prietos Boys Camp). "The fact that institutional parties like these can and do actually work together with compassion and a common sense perception of the greater good, is not only heartening and wonderful," says Morgan, "but it proves that such a thing really can happen, and therefore needs to happen more often, in more places."
This Kickstarter campaign has been created to raise funds for a feature-length documentary film of The Odyssey Project, as well as a "manual" (to be prepared by Morgan) to explain the program's origin, the program itself, and its behind-the-scenes efforts and underpinnings to other municipalities and universities nationwide that may (hopefully) consider adopting something similar.
The documentary film will showcase the boys, their art, rehearsals, and performances. It will show the progression - the rediscovery of "a voice", the rekindling of hope, the regeneration of self-respect, and how it changes the course of their lives. It will also get personal with the boys, revealing their biggest challenges, and how they see the world, which is often having the deck stacked against them. Viewers will be surprised how many boys - when given a chance through a program like The Odyssey Project, rise ... recognize ... and realize - they do want better. Many of them know their time is now, before they are an adult, and "in the system", at which point - statistically - it's often too late. But the film is also truthful to the core, because while the program has had much success, sometimes it's not enough. When the boys are released they go back to their homes and neighborhoods, where pressures can be consuming, and old habits die hard.
The film casts a spotlight on a powerful and much-debated issue - inequities inherent in the US prison pipeline which enhance the challenges faced by youth of color and low socioeconomic means (see About the Documentary section, below).
Perhaps the greatest significance of The Odyssey Project is that it's an actual solution-based program. Adds filmmaker Manning: "We live in a world that loves to publicize problems, and too often our news is peppered with verbiage designed only to make us aware, and then fearful and enraged. Not enough effort is placed on posturing for cures or discussing and developing solutions. I want to make this film to say to people - Hey! Look what we have right here and now. Here's something that’s really trying to make a difference - it doesn't just shed more light on a problem, it attacks it, as a real part of a real solution."
ABOUT THE ACTUAL PROGRAM
The Odyssey Project brings together two disparate populations - incarcerated teens, and students from the UC system. Through live performance, It tells a story of transformation, the recovering of lost identities and improved perspectives on life. The male teens from Los Prietos Boys Camp (who are participating in the program) are mostly Blacks and Latinos from working class backgrounds. They are serving time in a rehabilitative facility for breaking the law. The UCSB students are young adults from middle or upper class backgrounds seeking a liberal arts education. These two diverse groups from contrasting ends of the social spectrum engage in dialog through art. They examine their common humanity; communication that spurs growth. Together, these students - and in the program, they are all students - tell their life stories using the heroic template of the Odyssey of Homer as a creative pathway to empowerment.
The Odyssey Project is a 6-week curriculum. Rehearsals each year begin in August and the culminating performance is in September.
The content of The Odyssey Project program revolves around the arts, but also contains elements that are psychological, sociological, and spiritual. It's been carefully created by Morgan, who - along with a support staff - instructs and mentors the students in a diverse array of exercises. Among the exercises are:
- Writing - so where was my first mistake, and how did it lead me on a descent into chaos?
- Drawing - I will construct a map "of empowerment"; a monster; a whirlpool; the depiction of a "fatal flaw"
- Learning new disciplines - I will broaden myself - mime teaches how to use the body individually (as opposed to part of a gang) and also without hostility; Aikido teaches martial arts - which is fighting, but it's fighting rooted in an honorable ethic; dance teaches about physical form and elevating one's self through it; and -
- Engineering a spiritual "awakening" - how might I "mask" parts of this world, create an energy force, rise above it, and tap into a newer version of this world with a higher state of being.
All of the above is carefully choreographed, and integrated into the performances themselves.
ABOUT THE DOCUMENTARY
The Odyssey Project full-length documentary began filming in Spring 2014. This Kickstarter campaign seeks to raise the balance of funds needed to complete production.
The film has several components, and points of view:
It documents of the adventures and transformations of a group of five incarcerated young men as they struggle to find their voices through a unique theater undertaking that is The Odyssey Project. The young men seek to become "heroes in their own life journeys". They try to discard stigmatizing labels and create better destinies, despite a difficult history, and tremendous ongoing obstacles.
It examines a distinctive blending of privileged and non-privileged youth coming together, struggling with and overcoming their preconceptions to demonstrate how artistic cooperation can transcend victim-hood, class, and racial barriers. The incarcerated youth along undertake a six-week curriculum of specialized modules, mentored throughout by university faculty, working alongside undergraduate students as peers and collaborators.
It shows the rehearsals, exercises, and mentoring - through footage of reading and creative writing exercises, improvisation classes, martial arts choreography, mime, mask building, animation and dance - culminating in a public theater performance of a student-authored adaptation of the Homeric epic poem The Odyssey. Themes of self-examination and self-discovery so inherent to the poem are used as a template for marginalized youth to fashion their own journey, creating a sense of empowerment, liberation, and self-determination.
It self-evaluates its own mission - to enable these youth offenders to really take control of their own lives through their decision making, to see a future beyond the arbitrary limitations of economy, ethnicity, or education imposed by society and their own family norms. It's beautiful when it works, and sad when it falls short.
It documents the entire engagement process, from the ice-breaking moment when the two groups first encounter one another through the ups and downs of rehearsal to the accomplishment of a live sold-out performance at a professional community theater.
It personally tracks the five adolescents in two ways - footage from the filmmakers, and footage from the youths themselves. We'll see them navigate through the sometimes stark world that is their homes – their Ithaca - seeking to parlay their newly found voices and empowerment into resourceful solutions for a more productive life. It's a real-life study that will keep you riveted.
The film will also show that it IS possible for there to be a winning alliance between an institution of higher learning, a local government, and a juvenile probation department.
And finally, the film will also show that amid a sea of problems - whose sensationalized coverage sells newspapers, generates TV ratings, and are too often politicized - there is such a thing as a noble pursuit of a solution for the betterment of all - and here is a case of it happening here and now.
ABOUT THE MANUAL
In an effort to facilitate the adoption of programs like The Odyssey Project outside of Santa Barbara, a small portion of the Kickstarter $ raise will allow Morgan to focus dedicated time and resources to the creation and production of a manual, or guideline - one for universities, and one for municipalities.
The manual will focus on the underlying principles of the project - voice of empowerment, theater as social activism / social intervention. Detailing both theory and practice behind the initiative, the manual will examine the artistic and practical strategies integral to this form of creative engagement for marginalized and/or disenfranchised voices. While the manual will center largely on the theater process it will also share insights into sociological tenets, and the messages, arguments, and process that has allowed The Odyssey Project to set up a winning alliance with the juvenile justice system and the community.
WHY "THE ODYSSEY"
The Odyssey is one of 2 ancient Greek "epic poems" attributed to Homer in the late 8th century, BC. It centers on the Greek hero Odysseus (sometimes called Ulysses) and his long journey home after the fall of Troy. The journey is arduous, full of heroism, tragedy, adventure, and peril. Odysseus' heroic trait is described as his "cunning intelligence". His most evident flaw is his pride, or hubris.
The Odyssey Project is named for this great work. It makes a metaphoric parallel between Odysseus' long and harrowing journey home, and the incarcerated teens and their journey home, and their longer journey ... to lasting freedom.
ABOUT SANTA BARBARA
Santa Barbara (name of both city and county) is located 90 miles WNW of Los Angeles, California, along the Pacific Coast, between the Santa Ynez Mountains and the Pacific Ocean. The climate is Mediterranean. It's a popular tourist and resort destination. The demographic is mostly white and Hispanic. The population (of the city) is approx. 90,000. The University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) is a public research university, with a public enrollment of 23,000. Los Prietos Boys Camp is located "in the woods" on the outskirts of the city of Santa Barbara.
MEET OUR TEAM
MICHAEL MORGAN - FOUNDER AND ADMINISTRATOR
Michael Morgan grew up in Harlem, NY. He is classically trained as an actor and voice teacher. He is presently a Professor at UCSB in the Dept. of Theater and Dance. He founded the Odyssey Project in 2011, and has been its hands-on operator since inception. Please see the "Bio" tab atop this page for more on Michael.
MARK MANNING - FILMMAKER
Mark Manning is an award-winning documentary filmmaker. A union commercial diver by trade, he exchanged his hard hat for a camera after 9/11. His documentary The Road to Fallujah has been called "the defining depiction" of the Iraq War; and he is the only Westerner to live among the people of Fallujah after the city was destroyed. He met Michael and was drawn to the project's message of empowerment in the face of systemic injustice.
CRIS CAZOR - PRODUCTION DIRECTOR (FOR THE FILM)
Cris Cazor is an accomplished video operator and editor. He has worked alongside Mark for several years, garnering film and story-lines of boys involved in The Odyssey Project. Cris is a native of Chile.
MING HOLDEN - PRODUCTION ASSISTANT
Ming is an accomplished writer/author, artist, and activist. She was a Henry Luce scholar in Mongolia, and has performed non-profit work in Kenya (above), Russia, Bolivia, and Ecuador. She has worked closely alongside Michael, who calls Ming "highly instrumental in The Odyssey Project's growth and success".
ZACHARY PRICE - RESEARCHER/ FIGHT CHOREOGRAPHER
A collaborator since inception whose work as researcher and fight choreographer helped mold the program - Zachary has completed his doctorate of Theater Studies at UCSB. He is currently a researcher at UCLA.
AHMED ASI - PRODUCTION ASSISTANT
We welcome Ahmed to the team. He is an MA/PhD student in the UCSB Theatre Dept., and a Chancellor's International Fellow of the Graduate Division. He has been the recipient of a Davis Foundation Projects for Peace grant, and has experience teaching theater in his native country of Pakistan. He will be integrally involved in the program and in this Kickstarter campaign.
TIMELINE, BUDGET, & USE OF PROCEEDS
Timeline - completion of all production on or before February, 2016. Post-production commencing February, 2016, concluding June, 2016. Distribution and marketing efforts, including pursuit of a wide range of alliances, from May, 2016 through September, 2016. Rough cuts in Man to be used for applying to festivals in September.
Budget - variable, depending upon total Kickstarter raise and other factors. However - production has been ongoing, thanks mostly to the sweat and resources of the team, so the completion of all production before the timeline dates is fully manageable at any level of funding above the target.
Use of Proceeds - see pie chart below - which is inclusive of KS fees, processing fees, and Rewards fulfillment.
The Odyssey Project came to Kickstarter to finance to balance of production for the documentary, and to finance the manual, for 3 reasons:
A desire to remain independent. The Odyssey Project began with Michael's vision, and Mark now shares that vision. They both want the film to remain true to, and be an extension of that vision.
A desire to be truthful. In some ways, The Odyssey Project is a "feel good" program, but to make a feel good film would not do it justice. Michael and Mark want the film to be starkly honest about the power and severity of all the issues. The Odyssey Project has had many successes, but often times it's not enough. The lures and challenges of certain neighborhoods can trump the program, and sometimes does. This must be as much a part of the film as anything else. The Odyssey Project is a good start, but there is a long way still to go.
A desire to collaborate. The Odyssey Project exists pursuant to a collaboration between 3 institutional entities. It can happen. What better place to take this than to Kickstarter, where collaboration is a way of life, and a proven model for success.
NOTES ABOUT THE REWARDS
The delivery dates of October 2016 reflect the fact that this is the outside date when the film will be available. Many other rewards will be fulfilled much earlier.
As the campaign progresses, artists will be selected for items such as the t-shirt and the poster, and images will be posted.
Any questions at all - please send an email to Michael by clicking "contact me" on the upper right.
Risks and challenges
Making a full length feature documentary is a challenge for anyone, even for a major studio. It is a substantial endeavor, with many moving parts.
We have done our best to minimize risk and maximize use of funds without the slightest compromise to the mission, the story, and the quality. The filmmakers are experienced, the boys' footage they took has already been shot, as has the rehearsal and performance footage. The funds from KS will allow for the footage that really makes the documentary special - the backgrounds of the boys, actual at-home footage of the boys and their challenges, and the honing of the big picture storyline and script - prison pipeline, etc. - which involves interviews with officials, including politicians and lobbyists.
We think it's well thought out. The scope of work, time frames, and budgets are reasonable. And The Odyssey Project itself has additional commitments to help it through post-production.
In summary, we say with total confidence - when the Kickstarter campaign succeeds, the documentary film of The Odyssey Project will be made; all rewards will be delivered fully and on a timely basis; and the manual for other cities and universities will be produced.
Hopefully, many people will see this film, and some will hear its message and process it. Let's hope to start a dialogue that looks past the problems, and discusses solutions.
Thank you all for reading and for your suuport. - Michael and MarkLearn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (49 days)