Inaugural San Quentin Film Festival — First Film Fest Inside a Prison — Will Screen A24’s ‘Sing Sing’ (Exclusive)

The inaugural San Quentin Film Festival — the first film festival to be held inside a prison — will take place Oct. 10, 2024 at the maximum security correctional facility located near San Francisco. 

The one-day event, designed to spark collaboration between incarcerated people and the entertainment industry, will include a screening of A24‘s Sing Sing, which stars Colman Domingo and a cast of formerly incarcerated actors. The festival will include both new feature films that depict the prison experience and short films made by incarcerated filmmakers.

The idea for the festival came from Rahsaan Thomas, co-host and producer of the award-winning Ear Hustle podcast, whose short documentary, Friendly Signs, which he directed while at San Quentin, screened at the 2024 Atlanta Film Festival. “I learned to become a filmmaker while I was incarcerated, using donated equipment,” said Thomas, who is co-directing the festival with playwright and screenwriter Cori Thomas (no relation), a San Quentin volunteer. “My experience happened through opportunities that rarely come to incarcerated people,” Rahsaan added. “That’s why I’m committed to making this opportunity available to others.”

Since 2021, San Quentin has been home to ForwardThis, the first film and TV production job training program housed inside an American prison. Though ForwardThis is funded by private donors, the program exemplifies a prison reform model for which California Governor Gavin Newsom is currently advocating, which emphasizes job training and other programming designed to disrupt the cycle of recidivism.

The San Quentin Film Festival, which opened for submissions on May 1 and will close on July 31, is designed to build pathways to Hollywood careers.

A jury of incarcerated filmmakers in San Quentin will judge the submissions for narrative and documentary features, screening them at the prison’s chapel. To be eligible, films must be 2023-24 releases that focus on the prison experience and are produced by filmmakers who have never been incarcerated themselves. Current or formerly incarcerated filmmakers may participate in the short film competition, which includes both narrative and documentary categories.

The festival will also present a best pitch award for a narrative or documentary film idea, open exclusively to current residents of San Quentin. A jury of entertainment industry figures will select the winners, with the goal of providing a mentor for the filmmaker.

Due to limited seating at the prison, attendance will be limited to entertainment industry executives, the filmmakers in competition, judges, donors and selected credentialed press. A virtual screening pass will be available for the general public to view the films showcased at the festival.

The San Quentin Film Festival has a board of entertainment industry advisors including producer Nina Jacobson, directors Taylor Hackford and Nancy Weill and Tribeca Film Festival CEO Jane Rosenthal and EVP Nancy Lefkowitz. Recently released filmmaker Brian Gonsoulin is serving as associate director of the festival and Harold Meeks, Kevin Sawyer and Marcus Henderson are currently incarcerated men who are serving as festival coordinators inside the prison. 

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