Film Reviews

Review: ‘How to Prepare for Prison’

Hot Docs 2016

Demario and his mother Tammy outside court with lawyer Chris Kessel
Courtesy of Hot Docs

How to Prepare for Prison
(Canada, 90 min.)
Dir. Matt Gallagher
Programme: Canadian Spectrum (World Premiere)

I once saw a friend get locked up. The sight of that massive door slamming shut on her was very disturbing. In How to Prepare for Prison, people who, like my friend, have never been accused of crimes are traumatized by the likelihood of losing their basic freedom and facing unknown dangers.

The doc cross-cuts between Courtney, a single woman who out of desperation defrauded her boss; Joe, a family man, who was charged with involvement in a grow-op; and Demario, a black gay scholarship student who might go to jail for assaulting a fellow student he claims harassed him. In his film, Gallagher sustains a sombre, anticipatory mood via low-key lighting and slowed-down rhythms, frequently cutting into shots on pans.

While Joe and Demario fight the charges and agonize over what lies ahead, Courtney, the only one who is unambiguously guilty, hires a prison consultant to ease her into doing time. Prison consultant is a burgeoning profession because so many people are being incarcerated.

Too many, says a sheriff, as the doc expands into a statement about the North American justice system. We should be spending more on crime prevention, he argues, and less at the “back end.”

How to Prepare for Prison screens:
-Sunday, May 8 at the Isabel Bader at 3:30 PM

Please visit the POV Hot Docs hub for more coverage on this year’s festival.

Hot Docs runs April 28 – May 8. Visit for more information.

Maurie Alioff writes about movies for publications off- and on-line, and is a screenwriter currently collaborating on a documentary featuring Bob Marley’s granddaughter while researching other Jamaica-related projects, including a magical-realist crime story drawing on stories he hears on the island. He has written for radio, journals and TV, taught screenwriting and been a contributing editor to various magazines.

View all articles by Maurie Alioff »