We are thrilled to announce that The Sentence, the intimate portrait of a family grappling with the enduring effects of incarceration, directed by Rudy Valdez, will be the 2018 MNFF Closing Night Film. In anticipation of our grand finale, MNFF sat down with Rudy to talk sentencing, the power of family, and how he decided to quit his job and make the film full-time.
We are pleased to announce that Rudy will join us for the Closing Night film on Sunday, August 26 at 7:30pm following the VTeddy Awards at 6:30pm. The VTeddy Awards and Closing Night film are free and open to all!
MNFF: The Sentence focuses on the issue of sentencing rather than on who is guilty. Can you tell us about you decision-making process?
RV: When you think about a prison sentence you often think about the prisoner, but I want people to think about the whole ramifications of that sentence. The film shows the communities left behind who complete their own sentence. The person incarcerated leaves behind a whole community.
MNFF: What was it like taking home footage and making that into a project with an enormous audience?
RV: I wasn’t a filmmaker when I started the film. I started by documenting my nieces’ lives to capture moments my imprisoned sister would miss during her sentence. I wanted my sister to see everything: her daughters’ laughter, tears, growth. The first shot of the film depicts the moment that I first felt the peripheral ramifications of her sentence. After that, I dove in. I changed careers and dedicated my life physically, financially and emotionally. My sister’s story wasn’t unique. This process constantly reminded me of the thousands of children and community members left behind.
MNFF: You did a lot of research on America’s prison system. What makes fim a good platform for raising awareness for political injustices?
RV: I did my best to become an expert on the system to help me understand what happened to my sister. Film is amazing because it is digestible and compatible with our current technology obsession. I didn’t know where the film was going but I felt it was the right time to tell this story. The film is intentionally apolitical. I don’t go after the people who started or perpetuated this problem. Even though some are at fault, I still don’t want to alienate anyone. I wanted to make something that didn’t just preach to the choir but rather reached across the aisle.
MNFF: What can we do? Are there resources or avenues you suggest people explore to engage or learn more about this issue?
RV: We need to work on sentence reform. We need to vote. People have to be smart on crime, not tough on crime. People who want to reform the prison system are often labeled as being soft on crime. You can watch my film and realize that those reformers are not letting people off easy. My sister is not unsafe to society. Did she deserve the 89 years the prosecution originally wanted to give her? I don’t think so. If that argument is still too soft you can also approach the issue from a financial angle. Think of all of the tax dollars sustaining this immense prison system. It’s about being smart on crime and putting tax dollars where they should be. Preventative measures will stop this, not punitive measures.
MNFF: Can you offer advice to new and emerging filmmakers?
RV: Don’t call yourself aspiring. You’re a filmmaker. The best advice I have is: take notes from people who will take you seriously. I worked with a production company that believed in me from the start and said they’d give me final cut. This film is exactly what I pictured in my heart and head — the exact tone, pace and style that I wanted as my directing debut. I had to stick to my guns. Film is so personal and intimate. Trust your voice. It’s important to try new tone, pace and style. That’s how we move forward. I try not to sit in the same seat someone else has sat in. I try to take a new perspective.
I’m really really looking forward to this festival. I am so happy that I can come!