Jesse Krimes was locked up for six years in prison, a setting that could understandably squelch the creative spirit of nearly anyone. For the artistic Krimes, however, the experience became the inspiration for his secretly creating monumental works of art - including a remarkable 30-foot-mural - which he smuggled out piece-by-piece with the hope that he would see it in its totality once he returned home.
Krimes, the documentary by Independent Spirit Award-winning filmmaker Alysa Nahmias, invites us into the world of Jesse Krimes as he leaves prison, attracts the attention of the art world, and yet struggles to adjust to life outside prison walls where even a single mistake could send him back to prison potentially for the rest of his life.
It's hard to describe the beauty that is Krimes, an aesthetic work of wonder that celebrates Jesse Krimes for both his humanity and his artistic gifts. An Art graduate from Millersville University, the Lancaster, Pennsylvania-born Krimes served five years of a six-year prison sentence for cocaine possession. It was primarily during the last three years of his sentence that he was able to acquire art supplies, a transformation that he believes also helped humanize him to his guards. Upon release, he rode the straight and narrow but, yes, after a time he acknowledges feeling himself slipping into old habits until one night when he left a bar intoxicated with a friend and walked practically right into a police officer. While this could have changed everything for the increasingly popular artist who had also only recently met the son born while he was in prison, instead Krimes was sent to counseling and he turned that mistake into a renewed commitment toward living a better life including his co-founding of Right of Return USA, a fellowship program dedicated to supporting previously incarcerated artists.
Krimes is now an artist and curator who focuses his work on criminal justice and justice reform. He's had projects commissioned by the likes of Amnesty International, Ford Foundation, Open Philanthropy and quite a few others. He's also received a variety of fellowships including the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, the Independence Foundation, and the Ford Foundation's Art for Justice Initiative.
Art is woven into the tapestry of Krimes and it makes this unique, inspired documentary a joy to behold. I'll confess that my favorite scenes in the film involve those with Krimes and his son. These are remarkably honest, tender scenes as you can practically feel Krimes learning from his past, including being raised without a father, and his own determination to stay present for his absolutely adorable son.
Krimes is having its world premiere this week at the Heartland International Film Festival in Indianapolis, an ideal debut for the visionary, life-changing film that celebrates the power of art to change lives and also embraces an incredible artist who uses his gifts to make the world a better place.
Lensing by Marie Hinson is sublime and the film's original music from Amanda Delores and Patricia Jones creates a rhythm that guides us through the film's emotional and visual journey. Yet, it is unquestionably the wise and insightful work of Alysa Nahmias that weaves all of this together into a film that looks to have a lengthy and successful festival run as more and more people discover, at least I hope, the remarkable artwork of Jesse Krimes.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic