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Thousand Kites NYC | March 25, at Maysles Films

Thousand Kites NYC

March 25, at Maysles Films

Appalachian Prison Documentary Brings Home Human Rights Violations

NEW YORK CITY: The acclaimed prison justice documentary Up the Ridge will be screened at Maysles Films (343 Lenox Ave.) on Tuesday, March 25, at 7:30 PM. A question and answer session with directors, Nick Szuberla and Amelia Kirby, will follow. A documentary film about urban prisoners in isolated rural prisons, Up the Ridge looks at the issues from the perspectives of prisoners, their suddenly distant families, corrections officers, and the mountain communities where new supermax prisons are located.

As recently described on Public Radio International’s “Bob Edwards Weekend,” in 1999 Szuberla and Kirby were volunteer DJ's for central Appalachia's only hip-hop radio program on WMMT-FM, “The Voice of the Hillbilly Nation” in Whitesburg, KY. They received hundreds of letters from inmates transferred into nearby Wallens Ridge, the region's newest prison, built to prop up the shrinking local coal economy with corrections jobs. The letters described human rights violations and racial tension between staff and inmates. Soon Kirby and Szuberla restructured the show, “Holler to the Hood,” to bring the voices of prisoners’ families to the airwaves.

For Kirby, the human rights violations proved especially poignant. Besides happening in her back yard, she recognized her high school classmates among the prison guards. She and Szuberla in an artistic response brought hip-hop musicians together with mountain musicians–hill-hop, created a national radio program “Calls from Home” that brings prisoner families to the airwaves on hundreds of stations near prisons, and continue to produce the weekly radio program that shares the prayers, poems, and stories from home with the thousands of inmates incarcerated in central Appalachia coalfields. 

Filming of Up the Ridge began in 1999. Through the lens of Wallens Ridge State Prison, the documentary offers an in-depth look at United States prisons as a for-profit industry and the social impact of moving thousands of inner-city minority offenders to distant rural outposts. The film explores competing political agendas that align government policy with human rights violations, and political expediencies that bring communities into racial and cultural conflict with tragic consequences. Connections exist, in practice and ideology, between human rights violations in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo and physical and psychological abuse recorded in U.S. prisons.

The filmmakers will share information about their national dialogue project Thousand Kites ("Kite" is prison slang for a letter or communication). Produced by the artists of Appalshop, the time-honored arts and media center in Appalachian Kentucky, Thousand Kites offers a potent response to the mushrooming U.S. prison industry.  For more information visit www.thousandkites.org 

Contact: Nick Szuberla,

Thousand Kites
91 Madison Ave                               
Whitesburg, KY 41858