The true test of human rights cinema comes when audiences are asked to consider the positive attributes of individuals who, on the surface, are undeserving of our sympathy or compassion. This includes prisoners who have been convicted of murder, rape, and other crimes that infringe on the rights of others. Director Kristi Jacobson’s Solitary brilliantly illustrates the need to overcome such prejudices and recognize the inherent dignity of all people, regardless of their backgrounds, actions, or violent pasts. Set inside the Red Onion State Prison in Virginia (a “supermax” facility housing the so-called “worst-of-the-worst” offenders who pose “high-security risks”), this documentary reveals just how inhumane and psychologically damaging long-term solitary confinement is on the men who edge closer to madness with each day that passes. Inmates like Michael and Randall serve life sentences inside cramped 8’ x 10’ cells, and the screams of other isolated souls ricochet cacophonously off the walls of this stark, dehumanizing environment. Judiciously, Jacobson includes footage of correctional officers and councilors reflecting on their sometimes ambivalent attitudes toward segregated incarceration. She and her crew, through intimate interviews in which the men open up about their depression and loneliness, follow in the footsteps of the greatest documentarians (such as Frederick Wiseman and Barbara Kopple) and make a significant intervention in contemporary debates about the “Prison-Industrial Complex.”

– By David Scott Diffrient



Kristi Jacobson
82 minutes


Wednesday, April 19
7 p.m.
Lincoln Center Magnolia Theatre