96 minutes | Digital Projection | USA | 2012
Follow Me Down is a feature-length documentary about music in prison. Shot over the course of two years in three Louisiana prisons, Georgetown ethnomusicologist Ben Harbert weaves together interviews and performances of extraordinary inmate musicians—some serving life sentences, some new commits and one soon to be released. The result plays like a concert film, but instead of bright lights and big stages, these musicians rap in okra fields, soothe themselves with R&B in lockdown and create gospel harmonies on the yard. With unprecedented access and Harbert’s insistence on letting the music speak for itself, the film offers an unexpected look at prison life, pushing viewers to reach their own conclusions about music, criminality and humanity.
Decades ago, folklorists visited Louisiana prisons to collect disappearing work songs. Follow Me Down returns to the prisons to ask the question, what is the role of music in prison today? The three acts of the documentary offer different perspectives. At Angola Prison, older lifers seek redemption through song. Yet, the father of Angola’s gospel scene has lost faith in music’s promise. At the Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women, apprehensive newcomers audition for the choir. Through these women, we see how music offers hope and community. At Hunt Prison, inmates struggle to maintain their music club despite the unpredictability of administrative support and member commitments. We travel through these prisons as would inmates. Stories are unresolved and mysteries remain. One thing, however, is undeniably clear: the powerful impact of music on those who create it.
Ben Harbert joined the music faculty at Georgetown University after receiving his Ph.D. in ethnomusicology from the University of California, Los Angeles. His Ph.D. research was on music in three Louisiana prisons. His current research interests also include documentary film, international extreme metal, and music of the Near East. His theoretical approach connects investigations of musical experiences to analyses of musical phenomena. Harbert has been a teaching fellow at University of California, Los Angeles and a lecturer at Pomona College as well as a resident artist at the Performing Arts Center of Los Angeles County. Before returning to academia, he directed the guitar, percussion and music theory programs at Chicago’s Old Town School of Folk Music. Harbert is a concert-level performer on guitar, Near Eastern ‘ud, and Indian tabla. He has led a number of performance groups including the Los Angeles Electric 8 and extended rock ensemble arrangements of Erik Satie’s musique d’ameublement.
Kim Breden, Arts Facilitator for Rehabilitation Through the Arts, is the proud Chief Executive Muse of Be Mused Productions which specializes in educational entertainment. Be Mused Children’s Theatre Company offers musical theatre workshops for children, preschool through teen in Westchester and Dutchess Counties. In addition to directing and producing these workshops, Kim provides music programs and concerts, celebrating Broadway’s greatest hits, for museums, libraries and nearly 50 Senior Residences in NY, NJ, CT and Florida. She has recently released a children’s CD, “Picture This!, Imagine That!”, featuring all original songs. Kim has been a volunteer with Rehabilitation through the Arts (RTA) for 7 years. She music directed “West Side Story” at Sing Sing and teaches a vocal workshop at Greenhaven Correctional Facility, culminating in a Broadway Musical Review. Kim holds two Bachelor degrees, one in Voice, the other in Music Education, from the University of South Carolina. She did her Masters’ training as a music therapist at SMU in Dallas where she earned her Master of Music in Vocal Performance.
Maureen Mahon, Associate Professor of Music at NYU, is the author of Right To Rock: The Black Rock Coalition and the Cultural Politics of Race (Duke University Press, 2004) and articles on cultural producers. Her current research on the music and legacy of black women in rock examines the intersection of gender, race, sexuality, and music production. She has held fellowships from the National Science Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and the American Association of University Women. Previously, she taught at Wesleyan University and UCLA.
Martin Daughtry is an Assistant Professor of Music at NYU. With research interests centering on sound studies and the intersection of music and politics, Martin Daughtry joined the Department of Music as an Assistant Professor in 2007. He earned a B.A. in Russian Studies from New College of Florida (1994), and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Ethnomusicology from UCLA (2001, 2006). Before coming to NYU, he taught at the University of Maryland, College Park. Dr. Daughtry’s recent research deals with sung poetry in the post-Stalinist Soviet Union; post-Soviet musical nationalism; and the sonic dimension of warfare. His work has been published in the journals Ethnomusicology (2003), Poetics Today (2009), Russian Literature (2010), and in Ethnomusicology: A Contemporary Reader (Routledge, 2007). In 2007, Music in the Post-9/11 World, which he co-edited with Jonathan Ritter, was published by Routledge. Currently he is working on an ethnography of listening practices in conflict zones, centering on the experiences of US military personnel and Iraqi civilians in post-Hussein Baghdad.
Panel moderator Alison Cornyn
, President and Creative Director of Picture Projects, Inc., is an interdisciplinary artist at the convergence of technology and traditional medias. She is Founder/Director of the Prison Public Memory Project
and Picture Projects, a studio that produces in-depth new media projects that investigate complex issues from multiple perspectives. Picture Projects’ longest running work, 360 Degrees – Perspectives on the U.S. Criminal Justice System
received numerous awards including a Peabody Award, the National Press Club Award, the Batten Award for Innovation, as well as a Webby. Cornyn recently developed a travelling exhibit and website
about the Guantanamo Naval Base in Cuba in collaboration with the Columbia University Institute for the Study of Human Rights and 12 university partners around the US.