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A Call Away is Still Too Far, A Night of Film with Sylvia Ryerson

March 11, 2023 @ 3:00 pm - 4:30 pm EST

In this moving program presented in partnership with Pittsburgh Institute for Nonprofit Journalism (PINJ), City of Asylum hosts a screening of the new work in progress Working Films & Appalshop documentary film, Calls from Home.

An intimate portrait of rural prison expansion, Calls From Home documents WMMT-FM’s longstanding radio show that sends messages over the public airwaves to reach those incarcerated in Central Appalachia. Directed by Sylvia Ryerson, a former DJ for the radio show, the film shares the stories of the family and friends who call in, ardently hoping to reach those those who listen in from prison, yearning to close the distance inflicted upon them in any way they can. The film portrays the many forms of separation that are created as a byproduct of rural prison building. The result is a narrative that is part love story and part beseechment to end this system of mass incarceration and family separation.

Curator Notes: “This film is so deeply moving. It deftly captures the profound and complex emotions of the women and families whose loved ones are in this rural, Appalachian prison that is challenging for them to regularly visit. I look forward to watching this film together at City of Asylum and hearing more from film director Sylvia Ryerson about the process of making this important work.” Kelsey Ford, Director of Programs at City of Asylum

This film screening will be followed by a panel conversation hosted by PINJ and an audience Q&A. 

About the Director:

Sylvia Ryerson (she/her) is a multimedia artist, organizer, and teaching fellow/PhD candidate at Yale University. For over a decade her work—rooted at the intersection of scholarship, activism, and art—has probed the overlapping crises of mass incarceration, rural poverty, and environmental destruction. From 2010–2015, Sylvia worked at the renowned documentary arts center Appalshop, where she served as a reporter, producer, WMMT-FM Director of Public Affairs, and led production of the nationally recognized Calls from Home radio show. She also co-directed Making Connections News, a multimedia storytelling project documenting the movement for a Just Appalachian Transition. In 2015, Sylvia created and directed Restorative Radio: Audio Postcards from Home, a participatory audio documentary project co-created with families with incarcerated loved ones. The pieces wove together immersive soundscapes of home that were broadcast over public airwaves to reach their loved ones inside. Her work has appeared on Kentucky Educational Television (KET), NPR’s The Takeaway and Here and Now, the BBC, The Third Coast International Audio Festival, in American Quarterly, the Boston Review, The Marshall Project, and Critical Resistance’s The Abolitionist newspaper.

About the Panelists:

Richard Garland is an Assistant Professor of Behavioral and Community Health Sciences at the University of Pittsburgh. His research centers on working with troubled youth, especially those involved in gangs and gun violence. He works with police departments and community-based organizations throughout the state of Pennsylvania providing gun violence education and training. He is the Director of the BCHS Center for Health Equity’s Violence Prevention Project where he oversees training, data collection, and outreach efforts aimed at reducing crime and violence.

Tanisha Long is a community activist and organizer committed to addressing issues of injustice in our criminal punishment systems, schools, and mental health institutions. She currently works as the Community Organizer for the Abolitionist Law Center. She also is the founder of both Black Lives Matter Pittsburgh and BLM SWPA, as well as the educational nonprofit RE Visions. Tanisha believes there is power at the intersection of art and activism. She hopes to use her passion for storytelling to both center and better the lives of those impacted by our inequitable justice systems. A self-described malcontent, she will not rest until we have an equitable society.

Robert “Faruq” Wideman is a certified community service worker for the Allegheny Health Network. Robert is the brother of acclaimed author John Edgar Wideman and was written about in John Edgar’s 1984 memoir, Brothers and Keepers. Robert himself is a published author as one of the contributing writers to Life Sentences: Writings from Inside an American Prison (Belt Publishing, 2019). Robert became a mentor when he was incarcerated at Western Penitentiary on Pittsburgh’s North Side and his mission has not changed since his sentence was commuted by Gov Tom Wolfe in 2019 – he now spends at least five days a week reaching out to homeless, addicted people primarily in Homewood.

Brittany Hailer is an award-winning investigative journalist and educator based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She is the director of the Pittsburgh Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and Assistant Teaching Professor of Writing at the University of Pittsburgh. She is a 2022-2023 Fellow for the Law and Justice Journalism Project. Since 2020, Brittany has tracked in-custody deaths at the Allegheny County Jail, some of which were not previously reported to the public. Allegheny County Jail’s death rate is double the national average for jails its size. As director of PINJ, Brittany has investigated how the pandemic has impacted the Allegheny County Jail, including its kitchen, use of solitary confinement, and isolation of the sick. Her memoir and poetry collection Animal You’ll Surely Become was published by Tolsun Books in 2018.

About Your Visit:

Remember you can dine at the in-house restaurant 40 North before, during, or after the show. Please visit Open Table or call 412-435-1111 to make a reservation.

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March 11, 2023
3:00 pm - 4:30 pm EST
Program Category:


Alphabet City
40 W. North Avenue
Pittsburgh,PA15212United States
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