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The Independent Critic

John Leguizamo
Elena Francesca Engel
Abigail Fuller
25 Mins.

 "John Leguizamo Live at Rikers" Set for Indy Shorts 
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I couldn't help but think about Elijah Muhammad as I was watching John Leguizamo Live at Rikers, a 25-minute short film chronicling Leguizamo's visit to Rikers Island to perform his Broadway play Ghetto Klown. Along the way, Leguizamo speaks in small group with some of the incarcerated men about their experiences, hopes, and dreams while sharing his own background and the ways in which he got his life on track and created a better life for himself and his loved ones. 

Having had its world premiere at Tribeca Film Festival, John Leguizamo Live at Rikers is set for a screening at the Academy Award qualifying Indy Shorts running here in my hometown of Indy from July 19-24th at multiple venues around town. 

Muhammad, in case you're unaware, is simply the latest young man to be die in Rikers Prison having been found only a couple days ago in his cell and having apparently laid undiscovered for several hours until guards would notice. One correction officer was fired immediately. Others have been suspended. 

And yet, we know that similar experiences aren't exactly rare at Rikers. 

I couldn't help but wonder if Muhammad had been to Leguizamo's show. I wondered if he was in the classroom talking to Leguizamo about his hopes and dreams. 

I wondered. I kept wondering throughout John Leguizamo Live at Rikers. I couldn't help but wish that Muhammad himself was, indeed, actually alive at Rikers. 

Live at Rikers is a powerful short film, written and directed by Elena Francesca Engel and co-directed by Abigail Fuller. Avoiding the potential controversies evident given the film's setting, Live at Rikers instead brims with the possibility of hope as Leguizamo shares his own story and serves as an example that cycles can be broken and different choices can be made. Lots of folks try to reach or preach or teach inside prison walls, but those who are most effective are the ones who understand what it means to fail and what it means to have to keep trying over and over and over again. 

Always a gifted actor, Leguizamo's presence here is natural and honest. There are no histrionic highs or cathartic tensions. Instead, there's simply honest conversations and the building of relationships. 

Live at Rikers is an honest film, yet in that honesty it finds inspiration and belief in the greater good of these men. Leguizamo serves as a powerful example that you can turn things around and you can work to create the world you want to live in. Screening within the "Making a Difference" program, John Leguizamo is a short film not to be missed.

Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic