Shakespeare BEYOND Bars the Documentary

Shakespeare Behind Bars was documented in Philomath Films award-winning documentary which began its life at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival and traveled the world to 40+ film festivals winning 11 awards.

Shakespeare Behind Bars and Philomath Films are uniting once again to make a second documentary.

Shakespeare BEYOND Bars

The film will document what has transpired with the cast in the twenty years following the filming of Shakespeare Behind Bars.

Additionally, the film will share the stories of some of the original cast members’ family and loved ones.

The first Philomath Films documentary focuses on what occurs behind the razor-wire in one volunteer arts-based program, in one prison, in one state in the USA.

The second documentary focuses on the challenges that Shakespeare Behind Bars members encounter when they are released from prison and work to reintegrate back into free society.
Sometimes the human beings most “injured” from inside
are the ones most willing to help others.

The true heroes are those who selflessly lift up others.

.—Curt L. Tofteland


Hank Rogerson & Jilann Spitzmiller, Philomath Films


It’s hard to believe that it has been 20 years since we began filming our documentary, Shakespeare Behind Bars.

We were young, married filmmakers back then without children.

If all went well, Shakespeare Behind Bars was to be our second feature film.

We first heard about the SBB program from an article in American Theatre Magazine, and were further intrigued by a great article in the Christian Science Monitor.

We reached out to Shakespeare Behind Bars founder and producing artistic director, Curt L. Tofteland. Curt invited us to come to the Luther Luckett Correctional Complex to see a performance of Hamlet. We were hooked.

In 2002, we received early funding from the Sundance Institute, further cementing our path forward. We filmed the SBB production of The Tempest through 2003, thanks to the support of Warden Larry Chandler.

We made a trip almost every month to LLCC with Shana Hagan, our cinematographer, whom our amazing LLCC staff liaison, Karen Heath, nicknamed “Eyeball”.

We filmed over 170 hours of videotape which eventually was whittled down to 92 minutes by our talented editor, Victor Livingston.
The documentary premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2005 to great critical acclaim and went on to play at over 40 film festivals around the world winning 11 awards.

It was broadcast on Sundance Channel, BBC, Starz/Encore, and around the world.

Curt has screened the film at more than 100 colleges and universities, and in recent days, has been accompanied by Shakespeare Behind Bars/Kentucky returned citizens: Sammie Byron, Larry Klavitter, and Ronald A. Brown, Jr.

Leonard Ford’s, a founding member of Shakespeare Behind Bars/Kentucky, daughter, Melissa Tanis, has joined Curt speaking at national and international conferences.

The stories of these men and their brave, dedicated work clearly captured the hearts of many and has had many ripple effects.

But for us, beyond the success of the film was the deeply rewarding process of getting to know the SBB players. It was incredibly moving to see the deep, honest, painful and hopeful work unfolding before our eyes.

This film was made before our society was talking about trauma and ACES, before trauma-informed work was even a buzz-word. But this is the incredibly healing work that SBB has always addressed, at a person’s own pace and free will.

In a place of physical restriction, SBB has facilitated the journeys of spirit, emotion and mental health, guiding those involved into the deeper truths of their humanity.

We’ve had the great honor to help this profound work be understood by more people and have a wider reach around the world.

We are now very excited to be embarking on a sequel – a 20-year follow up film which we’re calling Shakespeare Beyond Bars.

We hope to shed light on the incredible impact that SBB has in the long-term, reducing recidivism rates to unheard-of low of 6% over a twenty-eight year history.

We realize that not all SBB members are lucky enough to venture beyond the prison walls in physical form, and we want to explore how SBB helps take a human being to new places in their heart, mind, and soul as well.

With great gratitude to all who have been a part of this journey.

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