TIM ROBBINS: “45 SECONDS”

December 10, 2019 at 4:30 am

Actor, director and activist Tim Robbins joins us to share the details about his new documentary “45 Seconds of Laughter,” and his work to reform the criminal justice system through the arts.

Aired on October 3, 2019. 

Transcript Print

>> GOOD EVENING AND WELCOME TO
"METROFOCUS."
TIM ROBBINS PERHAPS BEST KNOWN
AS THE STAR OF THE "SHAWSHANK
REDEMPTION" HAS BEEN EXPLORING
THE THEMES OF REDEMPTION,
COMPASSION, AND FREEDOM WITHIN
THE AMERICAN PRISON SYSTEM
THROUGH MUCH OF HIS CAREER.
ROBIN'S NEW FILM "45 SECONDS OF
LAUGHTER" A DOCUMENTARY SHOT IN
A MAXIMUM SECURITY CALIFORNIA
STATE PRISON CONTINUES TO
EXPLORE THOSE THEMES IN AN
EMOTIONALLY IMPACTFUL WAY.
THE DOCUMENTARY FOLLOWS A GROUP
OF INCARCERATED MEN, MANY OF
WHOM HAVE HAVE COMMITTED SERIOUS
CRIMES.
IN THE WORKSHOP, THE
PARTICIPANTS LEARN TO TAP INTO
SUPPRESSED EMOTIONS, TO EXPLORE
THEIR OWN HUMANITY, AND TO
EXPRESS JOY WITHIN THE CONFINES
OF THEIR INCARCERATION.
HERE'S A LOOK.
>> I WANT YOU GUYS TO GIVE ME A
PICTURE OF A FUNERAL IN THREE,
DON'T THINK, JUST GO, TWO,
ERECT.
>> JUST REALLY RECEIVE FROM EACH
OTHER AND SEE IF YOU CAN FIND IN
THIS STATE A TONE, LIKE A SOUND,
TOGETHER.
THAT TONE IS EXTENDED.
HEAR THAT?
SHARE WITH US, SOMEONE ELSE.
KEEP THE TONE GOING.
>> AND JOINING ME NOW IS THE
CO-FOUNDER OF THE ACTOR'S GANG
PRISON PROJECT AND THE DIRECTOR
OF "45 SECONDS OF LAUGHTER," TIM
ROBBINS.
TIM, THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR
JOINING US TODAY.
IT'S AN UNBELIEVABLE FILM.
LET'S GET RIGHT TO IT.
WHAT IS THE ORIGIN, FIRST OF
ALL, OF THE PRISON PROJECT?
WHEN AND HOW DID IT BEGIN?
>> ONE OF MY ACTRESSES CAME TO
ME ABOUT 13 YEARS AGO AND SAID,
I WOULD LIKE TO START A PILOT
PROGRAM IN PRISON USING THE WORK
THAT WE DO, THE WAY THAT WE WORK
AND TRAIN OUR OWN ACTORS.
AND AFTER A COUPLE OF THOSE
SESSIONS, WE CAME TO START TO
REFINE IT ENOUGH TO UNDERSTAND
THAT IT COULD BE TRULY EFFECTIVE
FOR THE MEN AND WOMEN THAT WE'RE
WORKING WITH.
AND SO IT WAS AFTER ABOUT TWO OR
THREE YEAR THAT IS WE STARTED
UNDERSTANDING THE POWER OF IT
AND SEEING THAT THERE WAS
SOMETHING -- FOR WHATEVER
REASON, THERE WAS SOMETHING
ABOUT THIS PHYSICAL NATURE OF
THE WORK THAT WE DO AND THE WAY
WE TRAIN ACTORS AND DID DEMAND
FOR EMOTIONAL HONESTY,
COMBINATION OF THOSE TWO SEEMED
TO REALLY CLICK WITH THE
GENTLEMAN WE WERE WORKING WITH.
SO, AFTER A WHILE, WE CAME TO
UNDERSTAND THROUGH ONE
PARTICULAR INDIVIDUAL, A MAN
NAME CHRIS BASSTANNO IN THE
FILM, HE STARTED HIS OWN THEATER
COMPANY AFTER WE TAUGHT HIM.
>> HE WAS AN INMATE?
>> YES.
SO, HE TRAINED -- WE GOT A CALL
FROM THE PRISON ONE DAY THAT ONE
OF THE GUYS TRAINED 40 NEW GUYS
AND THEY WANT TO PUT ON A PLAY
FOR YOU.
WOULD YOU COME BACK AND WATCH
IT?
I SAID, YES, SURE.
WE CAME BACK AND TEARS IN OUR
EYES.
THEN WE SAW THE FUTURE.
THAT'S PAYING IT FORWARD.
THAT'S HOW WE DO IT.
THAT'S HOW WE EXPAND.
WE EMPOWER INCARCERATED MEN AND
WOMEN THEMSELVES TO RUN THEIR
OWN WORKSHOPS AFTER WE TRAIN
THEM.
SO, THAT'S HOW WE'RE ABLE TO BE
NOW IN 13 PRISONS ON 15 YARDS.
>> SO, HOW ARE THE PRISONERS
SELECTED?
HOW DO THEY COME TO THESE
WORKSHOPS?
>> WE ASK FOR THE -- WE DON'T
WANT THE TRUSTEES OR THE
WELL-BEHAVED.
THAT'S NOT GOING TO DO ANY GOOD
FOR ANY OF US.
WE WANT THE PEOPLE THAT ARE
HAVING A STRUGGLE.
WE WANT THE SHOT CALLERS, THE
PEOPLE THAT ARE HEADS OF GANGS.
WE WANT RIVAL GANGS IN THE SAME
ROOM.
WE WANT IT TO BE MULTI-ETHNIC.
WE WANT IT TO BE MIXED SO THAT
THE WORK CAN HAVE ITS BEST
EFFECT.
>> YOU HAVE GROUND RULES WITHIN
THE WORKSHOP.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THOSE GROUND
RULES?
>> FIRST WE DO OUR OWN TRAINING,
GROUND RULES ABOUT HOW WE
BEHAVE.
IT'S VERY, VERY IMPORTANT TO
TREAT IT AS A CLASS AND NOT AS A
SOCIAL GATHERING.
AND THE RULES ARE THE SAME RULES
THAT WE HAVE FOR OUR OWN ACTORS
WHEN WE TRAIN THEM.
BUT I'M THINKING OF WHERE YOU
TALK IN THE FILM YOU DON'T USE
THE GANG NAMES.
YOU USE THEIR OWN ACTUAL NAMES.
>> RIGHT.
>> YOU DON'T DO GANG LANGUAGE,
GANG SIGNS, THAT KIND OF THING.
>> THE VERY FIRST THING WE DO IS
INTRODUCE OURSELVES AND YOU HAVE
TO USE YOUR REAL NAME, YOUR
BIRTH NAME, NOT YOUR PRISON
NAME.
THIS IS ONE OF THE THINGS THAT
SETS EVERYBODY ON THE ROAD TO
REDISCOVERY BECAUSE IN PRISON
PEOPLE HAVE TO ADOPT
PERSONALITIES THAT THEY MIGHT
NOT BE COMFORTABLE WITH BUT JUST
HAVE TO TO SURVIVE.
TALK TO MANY PEOPLE THAT ARE
PARTICULARLY WHITE PEOPLE IN
PRISON THAT HAVE TO JOIN AN
ARYAN NATION KIND OF
ORGANIZATION IN ORDER TO SURVIVE
AND HAVE NO -- THAT'S NOT THEIR
INCLINATION.
THAT'S NOT WHO THEY WERE
OUTSIDE.
BUT THEY HAVE TO WHEN THEY'RE
IN.
AND SAME -- ACROSS THE BOARD,
THERE'S SO MANY DIFFERENT
PRESSURES.
IT'S ONE OF THE THINGS WE TALK
ABOUT IN THE CLASS IS -- ONE OF
THE THINGS THE GUYS TELL US AND
THE WOMEN TELL US AFTER A WHILE
AFTER THEY PUT ON THE MAKE UP
AND HAVE BEE DOING THE CLASS
FOR A
THEY SAY, I DIDN'T R'VE EN WEAR
TIME I'VE BEEN IN PRISON.
THAT MASK I'M WEARING ON THE
YARD IS NOT WHO I AM.
I'M MORE THAN THAT.
I'M MORE THAN THAT ANGRY FA
AND THAT TOUGH GUY FACE.
>> THEY SAY THINGS LIKE THAT ON
THE AIR.
>> RIGHT.
AND ONLY PART OF MYSELF CAN GO
THROUGH, THIS MASCOT.
>> YOU HAVE THEM DO A SERIES OF
EXERCISES.
EACH EXERCISE HAS ITS OWN GOAL
OR PURPOSE.
BUT OVERALL, WHAT IS THE LARGE
GOAL OR PURPOSE OF THIS SERIES
OF EXERCISES?
WHERE DO YOU WANT TO GET THEM TO
EMOTIONALLY AND PSYCHOLOGICALLY?
>> I THINK THE ULTIMATE GOAL IS
TO REMIND ALL OF THEM THAT
THEY'RE HUMAN BEINGS AND THAT
THEY'RE WORTH SOMETHING.
AND THE WAY THEY ACHIEVE THAT IS
THROUGH A COLLECTIVE, NOT
THROUGH THE INDIVIDUAL.
AND THAT'S WHY WE ORGANIZE MOST
OF THE EXERCISES AROUND GROUP
ACTIVITIES.
HOW DO YOU ACHIEVE THIS
TOGETHER?
THE TWO LINES WALKING?
HOW DO YOU REACH THE END, TURN
AROUND AT THE SAME TIME WITHOUT
SEEING EACH OTHER?
>> HOW DOES THAT HAPPEN, BY THE
WAY?
>> IT BLOWS ME AWAY EVERY TIME,
BUT IT HAPPENS.
I SAW ONE IN IRON WOOD PRISON
THAT WAS ABOUT A MINUTE AND A
HALF WHERE THEY WERE -- THEY HAD
THEIR BACKS TO EACH OTHER.
AND THEN SOMEHOW MIRACULOUSLY,
THEY TURN AROUND --
>> AT THE SAME TIME.
>> IT WAS STUNNING.
I GET CHILLS EVEN THINKING ABOUT
IT RIGHT NOW.
IT'S ABOUT CONNECTION.
IT'S ABOUT COMMUNICATING IN WAYS
THAT WE'RE NOT NORMALLY USED TO
COMMUNICATING IN.
IT'S ABOUT WHAT CAN HAPPEN IN AN
ENSEMBLE WHEN YOU ACCEPT EACH
OTHER, YOU DON'T JUDGE EACH
OTHER, AND YOU ARE GENEROUS WITH
EACH OTHER.
>> NOW, THE THEATER FORM THAT
YOU USE IN THESE WORKSHOPS, WHY
THAT?
>> WELL, BACK IN 1984, I TRAINED
WITH AN ACTOR NAMED GEORGE IN
PARIS.
THEY HAD COME TO L.A. FOR THE
OLYMPIC ARTS FESTIVAL, AND THEY
WERE A SENSATION.
SO, ONE OF THEIR ACTORS, GEORGE,
STAYED BEHIND AND RAN THE
WORKSHOP.
SO, FOUR OF US FROM THE ACTOR'S
GANG WHICH WAS AT THE TIME TWO
YEARS OLD, A BUNCH OF PUNK
ROCKERS WITH A BIG PASSION BUT
NOT A LOT OF DISCIPLINE.
WE TOOK THIS CLASS AND IT KIND
OF SHIFTED OUR THOUGHT ABOUT
WHAT WE CAN DO IN THEATER AND
HOW WE CAN ACHIEVE IT.
ESSENTIALLY THE COMMUNITY
DELARTE IS THE PEOPLES' STORY.
THOSE TROOPS BEGAN IN ITALY WHEN
THEY WERE TRAVELING AROUND DOING
SOCIAL SATIRE.
THEY WEREN'T ACCEPTED.
THEY WEREN'T PART OF THE ELITE.
AND THEY WERE IN A LOT OF WAYS
THE ENMUEMY OF POWER.
AND MOST OF THE STORIES TOLD
HAVE TO DO WITH THE STRUGGLE
BETWEEN THE POOR AND THE RICH
AND THE PURSUIT OF TRUE LOVE.
SO, IT'S A STORY WE KNOW.
IT'S A UNIVERSAL STORY.
I'VE SEEN THIS STORY IN MANY
DIFFERENT CULTURES THAT ARE NOT
ITALIAN.
I SAW IT IN BALI IN A TOWN
SQUARE, THE SAME STORY, A YOUNG
WOMAN IN LOVE WITH A MAN, WANTS
TO MARRY HIM, THE GUY WANTS TO
SELL HER OFF, YOU KNOW?
SO, WE START WITH THAT.
AND HAVING OUR TYPICAL
CHARACTERS HELPS JUST ELIMINATE
THE WHOLE PRESSURE OF CREATING A
CHARACTER OUT OF WHOLE CLOTH.
YOU HAVE AN ARCHETYPE, BUT WHN
THE ARCHETYPE, THERE ARE
INDIVIDUAL SPECIFIC BEHAVIORS
YOU CAN FIND.
>> AND YOU SEE THE INMATES DIG
FROM THEIR OWN EXPERIENCES.
>> YES.
>> AS THEY PERFORM.
>> AND EVERY ONE OF THEM HAS
BEEN IN LOVE.
>> THEY MAY DO IT IN SPANISH.
IT'S SO ELOQUENT.
>> ANYWAY, THERE ARE A NUMBER OF
MANY, MANY MOVING MOVEMENTS IN
THE FILM.
THERE'S ONE WHERE YOU HAVE THE
INMATES, ONE INMATE PORTRAYS
SADNESS AND BREAKS DOWN AND
ACTUALLY BREAKS DOWN AND CRIES
IN FRONT OF THE CAMERA.
THERE'S ANOTHER ONE AT THE END
WHERE THE INMATES INVITE THE
GUARDS INTO THEIR CIRCLE, THANK
THE GUARDS AND THE GUARDS THANK
THEM.
I ALMOST START CRYING WHEN I
THINK ABOUT THESE THINGS.
THERE'S A PARTICULAR MOMENT NOT
WORKSHOPS, TIS AT THAT GETS ME E
ALL OF THEM TO A FUNERAL.
AND YOU SAW A LITTLE GLIMPSE OF
IT IN THIS FILM.
BUT THE LONGER EXERCISE IS YOU
TAKE THEM ALL TO THE FUNERAL OF
ONE OF THE CHARACTERS AND EACH
ONE OF THEM HAS TO GO TO THE
GRAVE AND SAY SOMETHING --
DOESN'T HAVE TO BE OUTLOUD.
IT CAN BE UNDER THEIR BREATH, A
GOOD-BYE.
AND THEY PUT A FLOWER INTO THE
GRAVE, A MIMED POWER.
AND EACH ONE GOES THROUGH THIS
AND YOU SEE THEM GOING DEEPER
AND DEEP INTO THIS STATE OF
SADNESS OR FEAR OR ANGER.
AND THEY'RE REMEMBERING FUNERALS
THEY'VE BEEN TO, OR WORSE, THEY
ARE REMEMBERING FUNERALS THEY
COULDN'T ATTEND OF THEIR MOTHERS
OR THEIR SISTERS BECAUSE THEY
WERE INCARCERATED.
AND THEN AT THE END OF -- AFTER
EVERYONE'S PUT THE FLOWER IN, I
ASK EVERYONE TO LOOK AT EACH
OTHER.
AND IT'S THAT MOMENT THAT THINGS
SHIFT IN A HUGE WAY BECAUSE THEY
LOOK AT THEIR FORMER ENEMY AND
THEY SEE HUMANITY IN THEIR EYES.
AND THEY CAN'T HATE THEM IN THE
ABSTRACT ANYMORE IF THEY HAVE
SHARED THIS.
AND THEN AFTER THAT, I SAY IF
YOU WANT TO, YOU CAN COMFORT THE
OTHER PERSON.
>> WOW.
>> AND THEN YOU SEE THESE GUYS
HUGGING AND TEARS COMING OUT OF
THEIR EYES.
AND IT'S LIKE -- IT'S -- YOU
KNOW, THAT'S THE SHIFT.
THAT'S WHAT THEY START TAKING
OUT INTO THE YARD.
AND SINCE WE'RE WORKING WITH THE
SHOT CALLERS, SINCE WE'RE
WORKING WITH THE PEOPLE THAT
HAVE POWER WITHIN PRISON, IT
STARTS TO MAKE THE YARD SAFER.
>> YEAH.
WELL, LISTEN, AT THE END OF THE
FILM, YOU END THE FILM WITH A
QUOTE FROM SISTER HELEN WHO OF
COURSE WROTE "DEAD MAN WALKING,"
THE FILM YOU WERE NOMINATING FOR
DIRECTING.
THE QUOTE READS, EVERYONE IS
WORTH MORE THAN THEIR WORST ACT.
IS THAT IN A NUTSHELL WHAT YOU
HOPE THE VIEWERS TAKE FROM THIS
FILM, THE KNOWLEDGE THAT THAT,
AND THE SENSE THAT THAT IS TRUE?
>> I WOULD HOPE SO.
AND IT'S SOMETHING I THINK WE
ALL KNOW.
IT'S JUST WE NEED TO BE REMINDED
OF IT.
I THINK THE OTHER THING IS THAT
WHEN WE HAVE SEEN THE
INCARCERATED PORTRAYED IN MEDIA,
WHETHER IT'S IN FILMS OR
TELEVISION SHOWS OR WHETHER IT'S
IN THOSE SHOCK DOCUMENTARIES
THEY DO ABOUT HOW DANGEROUS AND,
YOU KNOW, HOW BAD EVERYONE IS IN
PRISON, IT DOESN'T REALLY
PROMOTE A PARTICULARLY
COMPASSIONATE OR UNDERSTANDING .
AND AS LONG AS THAT IS THE CASE,
IT'S OKAY FOR US AS A SOCIETY TO
PUT SOMEONE AWAY FOR 40 YEARS
FOR POSSESSION OF MARIJUANA.
UNTIL WE REALIZE WHO THESE
PEOPLE ARE, UNTIL WE UNDERSTAND
THAT THERE ARE, THERE'S AN
AMAZING WEALTH OF HUMAN TALENT
AND WORTH IN PRISON, WE HAVE
TO -- UNTIL WE UNDERSTAND -- AND
AS HUMAN BEINGS WE'RE GOING TO
CONTINUE THIS INCREDIBLY INSANE
OVERINCARCERATION THAT WE'VE
ADOPTED AS POLICY IN THIS
COUNTRY.
IF YOU LOOKT IT, IT'S AN
OUTRAGE WE'RE PUTTING KIDS AWAY
FOR SO LONG.
WHEN I WAS DOING "SHAWSHANK
REDEMPTION" IN 1993 IN OHIO IN A
PRETTY CONSERVATIVE AREA AND I
ASKED THE PRISON GUARDS WHAT
THEY WOULD DO TO CHANGE THE
SYSTEM, THEY ALL SAID LEGALIZE
MARIJUANA.
THIS IS SALT OF THE EARTH
CONSERVATIVE REPUBLICAN OHIO
SAYING THIS.
I SAID WHAT DO YOU MEAN?
THEY SAID LISTEN, IF YOU DON'T
HAVE THE COURAGE TO LEGALIZE
MARIJUANA, AT LEAST HAVE TWO
SEPARATE PLACES TO PUT THE
PEOPLE.
THE NON-VIOLENT AND THE VIOLENT.
BECAUSE WHAT WE'RE DOING, WE'RE
PUTTING IN THESE KIDS.
THEY GOT UNLUCKY, THEY GOT
PUTTING IT IN WITH THESE VIOLENT
CRIMINALS.
THEY CALLED IT CRIME SCHOOL.
OBVIOUSLY WE WEREN'T LISTENING
TO PRISON GUARDS BACK IN '93,
WITH E GOT INTO A SYSTEM OF
OVERINCARCERATION THAT HAS JUST
BLOWN UP.
WE INCARCERATE MORE PEOPLE THAN
ANYBODY IN THE WORLD.
AND WHEN YOU UNDERSTAND THE
DEGREE OF SENTENCING FOR THE
CRIME, OFTEN TIMES NON-VIOLENT
CRIMES BECAUSE OF LACK OF
DISCRETION OF THE JUDGE LEGALLY
OR MINIMUM SENTENCES OR THREE
STRIKE LAWS, YOU START TO
UNDERSTAND WE'RE DOING SOMETHING
AWFUL TO NOT ONLY THE PEOPLE
THAT WE'RE INCARCERATING BUT
THEIR FAMILIES.
THEIR FAMILIES ARE DESTROYED BY
THIS.
>> YOU MENTIONED "SHAWSHANK
REDEMPTION."
THIS IS THE 25th ANNIVERSARY OF
THAT FILM.
IT'S UNBELIEVABLE.
YOU ARE KNOWN AS I SAID IN THE
INTRODUCTION, YOU'RE PROBABLY
BEST KNOWN FOR THAT AND FOR
DIRECTING THE FILM VERSION OF
"DEAD MAN WALKING."
THIS THEME OF JUSTICE WITHIN THE
PRISON SYSTEM CLEARLY HAS BEEN A
BIG PART OF YOUR SOCIAL
CONCERNS.
WHY?
>> WELL, I GREW UP IN GREENWICH
VILLAGE IN THE '60s AND EARLY
'70s.
AND AS ROMANTIC AS IT SOUNDS, IT
WAS A ROUGH TIME.
THERE WERE FIGHTS.
THERE WERE STABBINGS.
THERE WERE -- YOU HAD TO LEARN
TO RUN OR FIGHT.
AND YOU HAD TO AVOID CERTAIN
AREAS.
YOU KNOW, THE PATHS THAT I WOULD
TAKE TO MY APARTMENT WERE OFTEN
DETERMINED BY TRYING TO AVOID A
VIOLENT -- A POTENTIALLY VIOLENT
SITUATION.
SO, TO GROW UP IN THAT
ENVIRONMENT, I CAME TO
UNDERSTAND THAT, YOU KNOW, THE
PEOPLE THAT WERE GOING TO PRISON
WERE OFTEN TIMES PEOPLE THAT I
KNEW.
AND SO I NEVER REALLY FELT THAT
FAR REMOVED FROM PEOPLE THAT
WEREN'T AS LUCKY AS I WAS.
IN FACT, I STILL PLAY HOCKEY
WITH ONE OF THE GUYS THAT WENT
THROUGH THAT.
AND SO I -- IN THE '80s AND
'90s, WHEN I SAW PEOPLE START TO
GET -- CRIMINALIZED POSSESSION
OF MARIJUANA, FOR EXAMPLE, IN
THE '70s AND WHEN THAT STARTED
TO REALLY TAKE HOLD AND THE
OVERINCARCERATION STARTED TO
HAPPEN, IT WAS THERE FOR THE
GRACE OF GOD -- I WAS GUILTY OF
THE CRIME OF POSSESSION THAT
PEOPLE WERE BEING PUT AWAY FOR
MANY, MANY YEARS FOR.
SO, AGAIN, I DIDN'T FEEL THAT
FAR REMOVED FROM THE PEOPLE WE
WERE INCARCERATING.
SO, I SAID ABSOLUTELY.
WE ALWAYS TRIED TO REACH OUT TO
OUR COMMUNITY.
AND WE'VE BEEN DOING EDUCATION
PROGRAMS FOR YEARS IN
UNDERSERVED SCHOOLS.
SO, WE SAW THIS AS A NATURAL
EXTENSION OF THAT.
>> ALL RIGHT.
WELL, TIM, THE FILM "45 SECONDS
OF LAUGHTER" BECAUSE THAT'S THE
LAST THING THEY DO AT THE END OF
EVERY KPEREXERCISE, THEY LAUGH
45 SECONDS.
THANKS FOR JOINING ME.
"45 SECONDS OF LAUGHTER" WILL BE
FEATURED AT THE NEW YORK FILM

Funders

MetroFocus is made possible by James and Merryl Tisch, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, Bernard and Irene Schwartz, Rosalind P. Walter, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Janet Prindle Seidler, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.

WNET

© WNET All Rights Reserved.

825 Eighth Avenue

New York, NY 10019