In 2018, filmmaker Alessandra Zeka visited a prison in Guayaquil - Ecuador’s largest city - joining fellow filmmaker Priscilla Aguirre to teach a workshop about VR cameras and headsets to female inmates.
The women were stunned as they were transported to distant lands, places like the streets of New York, a sunny beach, a pop concert or a tiger sanctuary in Kenya.
After the novelty wore off, what really struck the women was how they longed to share in the lives of their families and how VR might be able to help.
Window to Freedom
imagines a simple way for women to reconnect with that they miss most - an upcoming daughter’s wedding, Sunday dinner with the kids, playing cards with friends or the fruit market on a crowded weekend.
Producing personal videos for a group of inmates that have shared their stories with us, we will tailor specifically to what they have told us they'd like to relive again.
Families of the incarcerated women will also receive user-friendly 360 cameras to record on their own - freely and privately, sharing memories over time, fostering a less alienating experience once the women reenter society.
The prison in Guayaquil, has capacity for 450 inmates. 899 women from all over Ecuador are presently imprisoned there.
In the women’s prison you can have your baby until they are 3-years-old. Then, the toddler must leave. Today, there are 9 children living in the prison.
Women have a lot of activities; a beauty salon training school, a chorus, several handcraft workshops, even a filmmaking production class.
The women in most of the prisons in Latin America, do not wear traditional prison outfits, but instead the clothes their families bring.
Support from the outside world is critical for things like additional soap, beauty products, and personal items of this nature.
The jail is next to a men’s prison. The basic instinct to communicate is palpable, stories of women and men passing love letters through cracks in the walls are not uncommon as they look for connection, a sense of emotional normality.
Gloria is a woman that got caught in an unpredictable and unfortunate situation.Gloria worked at a public office and had a husband with a seemingly stable job. They were raising three sons - a typical middle class family. One day, her husband needed to travel out of town.she agreed to make the trip with him.
On the road, their car was intercepted and policemen asked for papers. The men began rummaging through the car, it was then, when behind the emergency tire, a package of marijuana appeared. Gloria did not understood how the package got in the car.
After the initial shock, she realized that her husband was dealing drugs. Both Gloria and her husband were arrested and stood trial, she was given a sentence of 15 years. Two years have passed since that day. Three boys lost mom and dad in one trip.
Gloria told us about the desire for an instant of family life with her kids on a lazy afternoon. The sounds of the street outside the window, the television playing her favorite game show and the kids playing around the couch. For her, we will produce a video where she will be back home, sitting on her favorite red sofa, next to her oldest son, while the young ones play games on the desk across the living room, where Gloria has a picture of her parents’ wedding that she likes to look at. A quiet instance of everyday life like she had many times before that fateful trip.
Tiffany is a transgender woman, stayed away from some members of her family involved in drug trafficking and robberies. At the age of 13, when she started transitioning, she cut off contact with most of her family; she never had a record.
She met a man called Jefferson. They saw each other for months as friends. Suddenly, he stop calling her and simply disappeared. Nearly two years later, while watching TV Tiffany, saw his picture on the news. He was murdered in his apartment, one that Tiffany knew well. A few months later, Tiffany’s cousin passed away and while at the cemetery with some relatives, she was surrounded by a group of policemen who forcefully took her away much to the shock of everyone around her. She was accused of killing Jefferson, the friend she hadn’t seen in years. There was only one supposed witness to the crime who gave a written statement. He didn’t even testify at the trial in-person, This written testimony convicted Tiffany of murder. she was sentenced to 16 years and has been imprisoned for nearly half of it already .
Tiffany reminisces how much she misses the salsa dancing club where she used to go with her cousins, where they’d sit on a corner and, giddily joke about the young men dancing around. She asked us to bring her back there, for a few songs from the jukebox blasting music next to the bar, watching people twirling around the floor, the memories of happy evenings now seven years behind her.
We hope to inspire conversations about the devastating effects of prison life on women and the disintegration of families left behind. Windows to Freedom is the perfect opportunity to leverage a new technology, a new language in storytelling as a humane and innovative tool for rehabilitation. A project such as this has never been done before. We firmly believe it will be groundbreaking as a means to improve the lives of the female incarcerated population in ways we’ve never seen before.
We have already established the connections to allow us access to produce this one of a kind pilot project in Ecuador, but ideally, we see this as a scalable proof of concept that can be replicated in women’s prisons across Latin America, Europe and even the USA.
Initial VR workshop with inmates
Screening prospective documentary subjects and 360 equipment recipient families
Final fundraising, production and editing as needed
Premiere at live activation
Alessandra is a Director, Producer and Cinematographer. Since founding Adrenaline Films in 1998, she has created a dynamic cinematic style wherein her subjects tell their stories compellingly and intimately. Her work often focuses on hard-to-find stories in locations spanning from Beijing to India, New Orleans, Albania, Coney Island, Central America and more. Her films, such as Harsh Beauty, Te Dürosh, or A Quiet Inquisition have been broadcast internationally on networks like CNN International, Al Jazeera, ARTE, CBC, PBS,RAI and others, as well as screenings for festivals such as Human Rights Watch, Frameline, Docs D.F. One World, A.F.I. among others. She has received support for her work from Sundance/Soros Open Society, Jerome foundation, Rockefellers Brothers Fund, N.Y.F.A., N.Y.S.C.A, Chicken & Egg, Eastman family Fund, Michelle miles foundation, CCEN, and Artslink.
Priscilla Aguirre is a filmmaker living and working in Guayaquil, Ecuador. She studied Film and TV Production at the Cinematographic Research Center (CIC) of Buenos Aires, Argentina where she directed several award-winning short films. Over the past decade, Prisicilla directed documentaries NGO’s and received a Creative Documentary Masters Degree at the Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona, Spain, where she wrote and directed the documentary "El diari de Mònica", produced by TV3 (Televisión de Cataluña). She also holds a degree in Audiovisual Communication and Multimedia of the Casa Grande University of Guayaquil and is the creator of the feminist production project called Cucarachas Films, which promotes the work of women in the audiovisual world. Priscilla is currently in development on a documentary "Nosotras", which explores the relationship between herself and a group of inmates in a women’s prison in Guayaquil, Ecuador as she teaches filmmaking workshops, photography, theater and music. The project is supported by the Film School of the University of Arts in Guayaquil where Priscilla also teaches.
Sam Baumel is an independent creative producer based in New York City with over a decade of experience. His virtual reality clients include Sonos, Google, Adidas & the U.S. Army. Sam co-produced, shot and edited SUNDAY FIGHT (2017) with Alessandra Zeka a VR video short about the culture of cockfighting in Nicaragua. Other VR collaborations with Zeka include an immersive look at the Lower East Side’s burlesque scene in PALACE OF VARIETY (2016) and RAY’S CANDY STORE (2019), an intimate observation of an East Village icon. In 2018, Sam was commissioned by the Voss Foundation to shoot a VR documentary about the women in Swaziland without access to water and how the installation of water pumps in impacting their lives.