A project that began as a class assignment grew to eventually shape UC Berkeley alumna Skylar Economy’s career. Economy was at a crossroads that every newly graduated student faces: taking a secure job at a well-known company or continuing on the project of her dreams, a personal project.
Economy was caught between the choice of working for CNN in New York versus staying in California to continue working on her now out-of-class project, “From Incarceration to Education” (“FITE”). Inspired by the feature film’s subjects (who became some of her close friends), Economy decided to continue sharing the often-overlooked, but important, narrative of formerly incarcerated students who deserve to focus on the future instead of reliving their past.
“Your past should not define your future; people can change. This system is set against them, depending on their race or what neighborhood they’re from, but a lot of the times it’s not their choice.” Economy said. “(W)hat these people have to offer is greater than anything out there.”
The whole process of creating the documentary spanned two years, from applying for grants to actually filming. Once the grant money for Big Ideas, UC Berkeley’s annual contest to fund students who have “big ideas,” was underway, Economy knew her team had something special. After winning first place in the “Arts & Social Change” category for Big Ideas and becoming a finalist for Red Bull Amaphiko Academy 2017, a platform for social entrepreneurs, Economy was more confident in being able to carry out her vision and “amplify their voices,” as she put it. Even Economy’s move to Los Angeles didn’t halt production.
Though Economy graduated from UC Berkeley and took up a film-related job in Los Angeles, the dedicated co-director drove up to Berkeley every weekend to continue filming for the documentary.
As the older sister of a brother with epilepsy, Economy is determined to destigmatize various issues and applied the same motif to the story of incarcerated students. Though the filmmaker doesn’t have a connection to the criminal justice system herself, she was inspired to dismantle the injustice and stigma many incarcerated students face in their education and careers.
“Having that personal connection, though it’s not criminally related, really stressed my interest in delving deeper and seeing the political and structural sides to this issue,” said Economy.
As someone interested in the mechanics of incarceration and its effects on students, Economy doesn’t feel as if “FITE” is the end. The filmmaker hopes to create a second documentary based on “FITE” to show a more in-depth understanding of the systemic changes that need to be made.
“They have a felony conviction box to check, and people automatically throw their résumés out. This impacts so many people on a national level, and there are 2.3 million people currently incarcerated,” Economy shared.
While “FITE” caters to those within the system and focuses on connecting them to resources that will help them focus on a brighter future, Economy hopes to cater the second documentary toward the general public. This second, longer film will expand on the difficulties incarcerated students face in the workforce and dive into the schematics that work against those within the system. She hopes to utilize film to share these narratives and issues through a medium she considers to be “the whole package.”
“I just think that (by) seeing a person and hearing their story, you have a multisensory connection to the person you’re watching because you’re able to see and hear them,” Economy shared. “As a viewer, you feel as though you’re with them, and that’s what I try to portray in the film.”
It’s this multisensory effect that grabs Economy and inspires her to use film as her main form of expression.
“You want to help them, you want to understand them, and I think that’s what the power of film is,” Economy stated.
With years of experience in journalism and film, Economy hopes to marry the two through her documentaries and truly create an impact that humanizes each individual placed on the screen. As a filmmaker dedicated to destigmatization, Economy stresses the need to see one another as people.
“(FITE) is real life, and I think that’s what I’m most proud of, you can see the impact already and no one has ever seen it before,” she said.
With this in mind, Economy’s main goal as a filmmaker is continuing to amplify voices — given that there are millions that go unheard worldwide.
“I want to maintain the whole idea of amplifying voices that aren’t normally heard — people who are ostracized, the narratives you don’t really hear in mainstream media,” Economy said. “And I really want to put it on a large scale so people will see it on an international level, worldwide. That’s my goal, whether that means it’s distributed theatrically or it’s through television, whatever it may be, but I want stories that aren’t heard to be heard.”
Contact Ilaf Esuf at [email protected].