What better way to kick off the 2019 edition of the Rendezvous with Madness Festival on October 10, World Mental Health Day, than with a film that is intrinsically motivated by the subjects themselves? Conviction is a documentary made by women struggling within the prison system. It is a straightforward, no bells and whistles documentary in which the women literally document the challenges they face both within and beyond the system. The film is unflinching in its candor and raw emotional impact and, perhaps more importantly, it underscores the very real need for reform.

Conviction is organised around the principle of cooperation. The women were self-nominated and then given iPhones and cameras to record everything they experienced, including things that inspired them: as one inmate reminds another, “Record everything, even if you’re bad.”

Individuals tell their own stories and share their hardships throughout the course of the film. The honesty in each case is forthright. Conviction also follows this group of women as they engage in discussions around their everyday challenges. Tackling seemingly insurmountable challenges such as the high rate of recidivism, the women brainstorm ideas to formulate programs and even a building design as possible solutions.

Conviction demonstrates the reality in which women are the fastest growing prison population and the penal system’s inability to deal with a population of people who are primarily racialized and dealing with mental health issues. The film is remarkable in its ability to showcase and balance individual hardships with common adversity. But it does something much more effective beyond that: by inviting inmates to participate in the very creation of the film itself, Conviction is able to elucidate individual and unique cases that upend currently held beliefs about the justice system.

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