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Grab some popcorn and vote, Bermuda.

It’s a big ask from Wendy Tannock whose short, Compassionate Release, is now in competition as part of New York’s Chelsea Film Festival.

People have until Sunday to create an account on Film Festival Plus, watch the 20-minute drama and give it the positive rating Up The Road Films will need to nab the Audience Choice Award.

It’s a journey Ms Tannock, the film’s executive producer, started on roughly four years ago following a chance meeting at her son’s boarding school with Lynn Dow, the writer and director of Compassionate Release.

Wendy Tannock, executive producer of Compassionate Release which is screening now as part of the Chelsea Film Festival (Photograph supplied)

“We were at a basketball game and talking about different things that we do and that we’re interested in,” she said. “She started telling me about this script she was writing [and then] she sent it to me.

“It was really interesting how things came to fruition because I’ve always had an interest in art - I love to photograph; words consume me. I actually like that combination. But I never thought about putting it together. So I’m speaking with her, she sends me this script and it was an aha moment; a lightbulb went off. I was amazed.”

The story is of twin sisters left under the sole care of their mother after their father dies suddenly. Janet heads off to university; Jasmine "falsely confesses to a petty crime she did not commit in order to spare her boyfriend the long sentence for repeat offenders“.

A poster from Wendy Tannock’s film, Compassionate Release (Photograph supplied)

Despite it being her first offence, Jasmine gets jail time rather than the leniency she expected. Once in prison she becomes terminally ill.

Drawn in by the story, Ms Tannock was also impressed that the script highlighted a useful programme.

“Compassionate release is actually a prison programme in the United States,” she said. “If you have someone with a petty crime that’s terminally ill, it helps with getting them released so they can die with their family surrounding them rather than die in a prison bed alone.”

Since the arrival of Covid-19, the scheme has been used more frequently to alleviate health concerns in overcrowded prisons in America, Ms Tannock added.

“[But] it’s one the things that many people are not familiar with. So maybe the government in different states has used it but lots of families [with loved ones in prison] are not familiar with it. So that’s what’s really good about this particular film. it brings an awareness that compassionate release exists.

“In Bermuda we do have our version of that and it’s called HMP, Her Majesty’s Pleasure. It’s not the same, you have to go through the governor and it depends on the crime etc but it’s something people may not be aware of.”

She continued: “The story that’s in here can resonate with anyone. You have a mother, her husband dies tragically and she’s left alone to raise twins. People can relate to a mother’s journey and the passion and stress; people can relate to the kids and what they must be feeling having lost a parent.

“It’s a lot in there for people to digest. It’s tragedy, it’s empathy, it’s love and it’s just a family unit that’s really trying to pull their lives together to make the best of a situation.”

Having read the script, despite her limited industry experience, she offered her help. Aside from past work in communications and telecommunications, she brought her connections to the table.

“I think as you move around you get to talking to people about what they did, what they do,” Ms Tannock said. “Things just came to fruition. For example, she was looking for a graphic designer. I said, 'I know one. She’s very good. She’s located in Baltimore. Let me make contact and let’s see where it goes.’

“It was just interesting. It wasn’t something that I actually had planned on but I had stopped working to raise my two sons and they’re past 18 now. I was looking for something for me. I wanted something that I could sink my teeth into, something that I could live, learn and give back. And that’s one of the things I really liked about Lynn Dow’s stories. They bring to light something that people may look over, like compassionate release.”

Broadway veteran Stephanie Pope leads the cast as Carol, the twins’ mother; finding an appropriate site for the film’s backdrop was another “challenging” task.

“It’s one of the hardest things that happens with a film because you have something in your mind and you want to get it. You want that image to come true,” Ms Tannock said.

“We wanted a prison, to get that real feeling. So we went to one in New York - one of many. And we get there and there’s Jennifer Lopez with her crew for Hustle. Well of course, we can’t compete with that. We had to sit outside for four hours while they did their business and their tour to decide what they had to use. So it’s one of those things - you give and you take but you keep on pursuing what you want.”

Covid-19 became a global concern shortly after the film’s February premiere at the Pan African Film Festival and Arts Festival in California.

"It was great I was able to go up for that one,“ Ms Tannock said. "It wasn’t until 24 hours before I got on a flight to Los Angeles that I found out I was going. The very next day they were having a Q&A after the premiere of the film. So I was able to go and do that and represent the film and talk to the audience and answer questions and that was a great experience as well.

“It was the first time I saw Compassionate Release on the big screen. And I sat there totally amazed, with chills. I had goosebumps because to see it go from a script to a big screen was amazing.”

The pandemic stopped everything the following month. As a result of the virus, the Chelsea Film Festival will be held virtually for the first time. Compassionate Release is competing with 98 US and foreign short films.

“The world can be such a kind place,” said Ms Tannock. “It can be full of love. Why should someone die alone because of a mistake, especially if it’s a petty crime? I’m not advocating [where a crime is] really awful but if it’s a petty crime and you’re put away and you have a terminal illness...the thought of someone dying alone is actually very sad.”

To watch and vote for Compassionate Release, visit: bit.ly/3k6ZCxy. Watch the film’s teaser here: vimeo.com/396179819

For more on Up The Road Films visit compassionatereleaseshort.com/home. Follow Wendy

Tannock on Facebook and @wendyt.ep on Instagram

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Published October 16, 2020 at 7:00 am (Updated October 17, 2020 at 2:22 am)

Bermudian film-maker needs your vote

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