On October 5, 2023, the San Francisco Dance Film Festival will screen the documentary “Dancing in A Yard,” directed by Manuela Dalle, a French filmmaker residing in Los Angeles for the past six years. This unique documentary takes us into an unexpected world—the world of inmates in a high-security prison in California—through Manuela’s lens, who also questions her legitimacy as a French woman to explore this prison environment so distant from her own.
Located 60 kilometers north of Los Angeles, choreographer Dimitri Chamblas intervenes in this high-security prison, preparing a performance with a group of 10 inmates sentenced to heavy prison terms, including life sentences. In an environment where toxic masculinity prevails and where dancing is an absolute taboo, Dimitri Chamblas and the inmates defy these conventions to create a powerful experience.
In this exceptional context, as part of a voluntary rehabilitation program within the prison, the inmates open up with touching sincerity. They discuss their childhood, gang affiliations, crimes, life in prison, but most importantly, their desire for transformation and evolution. “Dancing in A Yard” goes beyond damaged lives and a prison system on the brink to offer a perspective on the capacity of every human being to reinvent themselves, if given the opportunity.
Manuela Dalle’s 72-minute documentary, “Dancing in A Yard,” is a poignant cinematic experience that invites us to reflect on the possibilities of redemption, reconciliation, and transformation. Manuela Dalle, a sociologist by training and a renowned filmmaker, has captured the essence of dance as a means to transcend obstacles and express the beauty and vulnerability of the human soul.
Choreographer Dimitri Chamblas, with his remarkable work within this prison, played a central role in creating this experience. His biggest challenge was to establish trust between himself and the inmates in an environment where running or making physical contact with someone is often seen as problematic. His determination to break down cultural and social barriers by encouraging the inmates to express themselves through dance has contributed to making this documentary a memorable work that challenges our prejudices and celebrates the human potential for transformation. Some inmates have been released, while others have been transferred to less restrictive facilities.
Dimitri Chamblas and Manuela Dalle are married in real life, but they do not disclose (nor hide) it, separating their respective projects, which nevertheless nourish each other. Especially in the case of Dancing in A Yard, this facilitated the filmmaking process as trust had already been established, and the sense of “staying within the family” was crucial for the inmates says Dimitri.
This gives the documentary an intimate, yet not voyeuristic, dimension on a fundamental social issue. It’s a must-watch.
For more information, check out these resources:
- Interview of Manuela Dalle by Arnaud Laporte on France Culture
- New York Times Article: Can a Dance Class Free Men’s Bodies in a Place Meant to Contain Them? by Brian Seizert
Date: October 5, 2023, at 7:30 PM
Address: ODC Theater – 3153 17th Street San Francisco, CA 94110
Purchase tickets here