Meet Indrani Kopal: the Malaysian director behind an award-winning documentary film that recounts the stories of six American men recently released from a decade spent in federal prison, all of whom regained their dignity via a modern dance rehabilitation programme while serving time. Aptly titled Incarcerated Rhythm, the feature length documentary saw its Malaysian premiere recently at Black Box Publika, hosted by the Malaysian Documentary Association.

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How it began

While pursuing her Master’s in Fine Arts at Hosftra University in New York, Indrani Kopal laboured over a short documentary titled “The Game Changer.”

The documentary profiled three-time nominated CNN Hero Susan Slotnick, a pioneering dancer and choreographer who taught dance to the inmates at the Woodbourne Correctional Facility in New York, a medium security men’s prison.

This was back in 2013. The short documentary film eventually won best documentary at the 9th Harlem International Film Festival in 2014 and the American Pavillion’s Emerging Filmmaker Showcase at the Cannes Film Festival 2015.  

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The journey

Incarcerated Rhythm was a continuation of this project, the result of 5 years of hard work for Indrani, her producer, Derek Burrows and associate producers Maran Perianen and Ray McClure.

The 80-minute film chronicles the stories of Andre Noel, Jecoina Vinson, David Montalvo, Andre Kelley, Ray Brito and Felix Machado following their release from Woodbourne Correctional Facility.

“These were men who spent most of their early adulthood in the prison for almost 13 to 20 years with no contact whatsoever with the world outside.” Indrani says.

“In the process of making this film, I learned that these men were armed with confidence and positive self-image when they got released. The dance practice and the public performances inside the prison is all about building their self-esteem and helping them to remember what it’s like to succeed again.” 

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Work ethic

With this documentary, Indrani took on the challenge of portraying the six individuals’ unique journeys as they prepared to stage ‘Welcome to the World’, a contemporary dance performance drawing on themes of world peace, love, separation and reconciliation.

“Indrani is the hardest working person I have ever met. And she establishes a personal rapport with everyone she meets in her life, which helps make her an incredible interviewer, filmmaker and person”, Ray shares.

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Film festival fodder

Premiering at the 13th Annual Harlem International Film Festival 2018, Incarcerated Rhythm won Indrani the special “Mira Nair Award for Rising Female Filmmaker”.

The documentary is set to premiere in Canada at the upcoming 32nd Edmonton International Film Festival in Alberta – a nine-day festival that’s been deemed an ‘Oscar-qualifying’ event by the Academy of Motion Picture and Sciences.

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Home sweet home

In July, the Malaysian Documentary Association hosted the Malaysian premiere of Incarcerated Rhythm, stirring up well-deserved praise for the former Malaysiakini video journalist in her own homeland.  

“It isn’t often a Malaysian filmmaker produces a feature length documentary; we’re proud to provide a platform to share this incredible film with a local audience,” said MyDocs executive director Lina Teoh.

Read more on Indrani Kopal here, or visit her Facebook page to learn more about her award-winning documentary film.