The Farm

Institute History

  • 1998 Sundance Film Festival


In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Angola was the site of a prosperous slave plantation. Now home to one of America’s largest maximum-security prisons, “the farm” is still worked by an unpaid labor force made up of the five thousand inmates (80 percent of them African-American) who enter its gates as young men, never to leave.

Guided by the prison’s oldest resident, journalist/activist Wilbert Rideau, and its warden, Burl Cain, The Farm refracts the spectrum of life’s somber passages for a population facing life incarceration. Focusing on the rites of passage of five inmates over the course of one year, the film articulates each man’s struggle to sustain hope and achieve ever-elusive freedom. At twenty-two, George is beginning the first year of a life sentence for murder. Imprisoned for over twenty years, Vincent and Ashanti plead for clemency as they come up for parole board hearings. Having been granted a pardon, Bishop is on the cusp of tasting the sweet surreality of freedom after serving forty years. Bones, dying of cancer, and John, facing execution, confront the inevitability of their mortality behind bars. In their mirrored circumstances, each arrival, departure, and defeat becomes a chilling confirmation of life’s bitter inevitability.

In The Farm, Jonathan Stack and Liz Garbus have conceived a deeply humanistic examination of life in prison and an incisive critique of America’s systemic perpetuation of enslavement. This compelling film is not to be missed.

Liz Garbus and Jonathan Stack, Directors
Liz Garbus and Jonathan Stack are both native New Yorkers and have collaborated previously on many films, including Final Judgment. Stack has produced a dozen documentaries in his twelve-year career, including the award-winning Damned in the USA and Harlem Diary. Garbus made her directorial debut with the Emmy-nominated Final Judgment in 1996 and has gone on to make several highly acclaimed documentary films.

Screening Details

Sundance Film Festival Awards

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