Let’s stick with the challenging subject matter; given that most of us are keen to stay out of jail, it’s tricky to engage our enthusiasm about finding out what happens inside. That’s something tackled here via In Their Shoes by James Wahlberg, brother of Mark; it’s a thoughtful documentary about getting out of prison and staying out, a process that’s revealed to be even harder than you might already realise.
In Their Shoes is only 71 minutes long, and doesn’t overstay its welcome; James Wahlberg has made films about the opioid crisis before, and as a result, this film is short on sanctimony and long on observant detail. Director Taylor Katsanis gives his work a welcome literary flavour by focusing on Boston’s Writers Without Margins, a not-for-profit organisation that aims to help those affected understand and articulate their own situation. Workshop facilitator Cheryl Buchanan is an empathetic guide to the four men we follow on a re-entry programme, adjusting to life as they attempt to put their past behind them but also learn something useful from the experience.
In Their Shoes is a film worth recommending; having established that not all of the four men will have a successful re-entry as part of the film’s scope, there’s narrative tension here, but not one that’s contrived by the film-makers. It’s an ancient maxim that you can tell a lot about a person by what they throw away; too often, we lazily assume that those who have served time have been cast aside by society, and Writers Without Margins set a striking example of reaching out to those who need help in battling addiction, but also enabling them to articulate about the stigma of being punished.
We’re still in the pandemic era, and there’s an understandable need for movie escapism, into the past, or the future, but few films deal with the now as we experience it. Katsanis and Buchannan display a light tough here with serious material, making a film that has public service relevance, but also provides genuine insight into an area of life that’s often ignored by cinema. While not a mainstream couch-potato entertainment, In Their Shoes allows us the chance to understand other people’s fragile existence, and is to be commended to those who want to look beyond tabloid sensationalism, and the demonization of those who stray from the positive path.
In Their Shoes is now available on VOD/Digital.