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Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison

The description of Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison clearly states that no filming was allowed during the epic and heartfelt January, 1968, live concert recording in the dining room at Folsom Prison that marked a comeback event for Johnny Cash. Still, a moviegoer can't help but hope. Especially when we got up early to catch the festival's first showing of the documentary, at 8:15am. But the lack of live concert footage notwithstanding, Folsom Prison tells a compelling and heartfelt story of the man, the myth, the legend, the singer, and his time in and out of prisons. Cash's time with prisoners was an inspiration both to those who came into contact with him in person as well as to the thousands of fans who recognized something unique in the raw emotions contained within the recordings. The album continues to have a mass appeal-sales are at three million records and climbing.

Director Bestor Cram created a compelling documentary using the vast library of evocative still images taken during the concert combined with footage of other live performances, old interviews, testimony Cash gave to Congress on prison reform, and new interviews with band-members, friends, and family. In the film, while Cram revealed that the idea that Cash served time was part of the self-styled mythology created by the singer, Cash seemed to relate to the men imprisoned within the walls. Through that connection, he served to inspire. Cram drew on many of these inspirational sidestories in the inspired portrait of Cash in the film. Merle Haggard, interviewed on-screen, talked about his prison time. Former Folsom Prison inmate the lateGlen Sherley is another prominent figure in the film.

Through songs, photographs, and interviews with his living children, Cash's impact on Sherley through listening to his work, singing his compositions, and even facilitating his release from prison and taking him out on tour. The poignancy of their relationship said something about Cash's optimism as well as his vulnerability and limitations. After all, as it is said in the film, you cannot hasten another man's enlightenment, as much as you try. It may have been something Cash himself understood in his own struggles with addictions.

After the blockbuster success of Walk the Line, that culminates in the performance at Folsom Prison and the comeback it initiated, the documentary Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison tells another part of the story, giving a glimpse into another facet of Cash as entertainer, celebrity, and even activist.

For more screenings of Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison, visit: Schedule.
For more of our Film Fest 2009 blog, go to independent.com/filmfest2009

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