Greenlight District Project's Class of 2014
Greenlight District Project's Class of 2014 show off their certificates of progress and achievement at the end of their awards ceremony. (Photo: Greenlight District Project)

MEDIA RELEASE

Greenlight District Project - teaching film writing to offenders - is a project of not-for-profit company the Greenlight Foundation, and has recently partnered with the Gauteng Film Commission (GFC).

This is the third consecutive year that Greenlight District Project has been teaching inside Meredale Correctional Facility in Johannesburg, the prison commonly known as "Sun City".

The project aims to build a country in which people like the inmates of Meredale can transform themselves and become productive members of society again. It offers a second chance of healing and integration to offenders - and through them, to South Africa as a whole.

Greenlight District Project is an initiative of Pippa Dyer - actor, musician, publisher, author, film writer - and now CEO of Greenlight Foundation NPC.

"Writing, any writing, always starts with some scribbles on a piece of paper, and it is always an outpouring of emotions," says Dyer. "Sometimes the best work that people produce is when they are in pain."

A transformative process for offenders

The entire awards ceremony was organised by the students themselves
The entire awards ceremony - from decorations and entertainment down to the frames for the certificates - was organised by the students themselves. (Photo: Greenlight District Project)

Learning to write for film is part of a process of self-actualization, and improves the consciousness of students - any students - by developing critical thinking and emotional intelligence.

A writer is forced to think about his or her characters in a rounded way, to "inhabit" the various influences on them, to understand what is really motivating them - and through this, he or she arrives at a more balanced understanding of human nature.

For prison inmates, this process has many benefits, including:

  • Helping them to feel productive and start believing that they might have a future in the world after their release.
  • Helping them to begin their own healing process.
  • Helping them to reflect on and re-evaluate choices they have made in the past, to consider other choices they might have made, and to start thinking differently - and more responsibly - about their future.

There is an important further, benefit. As Dyer notes, offenders "are obviously rejected by society, but sadly they are often rejected by their families as well".

Reconnecting offenders with families, society

Greenlight Foundation founder and CEO Pippa Dyer
Greenlight Foundation founder and CEO Pippa Dyer speaks at the awards ceremony. (Photo: Greenlight District Project)

By teaching students to be vocal, to find their voices, the programme serves as a conduit for offenders to reach their families again. And by encouraging offenders to find the creative output that best suits them - film, television, theatre, performance poetry, lyrics for music - it gives them a vehicle for communicating with society at large.

In the Centre for Excellence (study block) where Greenlight District Project teaches, there are approximately 500 offenders following various self-improvement programmes. Students are allowed computers in their cells - though not all have the facility.

The students taking Greenlight's courses have without exception proven to be hungry for knowledge and change. There are some accomplished graduate students among them - and one aircraft pilot! - and while some are nearing their release date, others still have a way to go.

Ways of supporting the project

Greenlight District Project is in need of support both financially and in lecturers and resources such as text books, manuals, stationery and DVDs.

Greenlight Foundation board chairperson Ashley du Plooy
Greenlight Foundation board chairperson Ashley du Plooy congratulates one of the student achievers. (Photo: Greenlight District Project)

Any individuals or businesses who are keen to assist in any way, or have ideas that could help in this regard, are urged to get in touch via pippa@iqu2film.co.za.

This year we have in the region of 50 students, both male and female, all of whom are in need of support.

We also aim eventually to film a selection of their stories, both as part of their training and with an eye to a potential festival of films written from "behind bars".

We believe this is a unique opportunity, not only for the students' own growth, but for society at large to come to terms with some its toughest, scariest issues - and, potentially, to add in a unique way to the flowering of South African film.

Issued by: Greenlight District Project