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Filmmaker, ex-felon explores power of art and film

| Monday, November 7, 2016

Tom Magill, award-winning filmmaker and artistic director of the Educational Shakespeare Company, came to Notre Dame on Friday to deliver a talk on his newest film, ‘Prospero’s Prison.’

“Today in a class teaching Macbeth, we were talking about a film that I directed called ‘Mickey B,’ an adaptation of Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth,’” Magill said. “Mickey B is cast by serving prisoners in a high security prison, Maghaberry Prison. We were the first group in the world to go inside a high security prison and make a feature film with the prisoners as the cast.”

While Magill works primarily as a film director, he also works as a drama facilitator in several prisons in Northern Ireland, according to his website.

In talking about the uniqueness of his work, Magill said he aims to make films with marginalized groups, particularly with people “on the wrong side of the law.”

“I’m an ex-prisoner, whose life was transformed through art education,” Magill said. “So I know, from first-hand experience, of the power of arts education to help people make better decisions. What made me become a filmmaker from a felon? I’ve chosen to be creative instead of destructive.”

Magill’s newest project is to adapt Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’ into a film, in which Prospero becomes a drug dealer, while his brother Antonio is trying to overthrow him. 

“I’m going to use some ex-prisoners, but also artists this time. The film will be shot in a cultural museum, which was once a prison called Belfast Prison,” Magill said.

Magill said he plans to use what he calls ‘false opponents’ to introduce conflicts.

“Antonio is his real opponent in both the film and the play, but he is too powerful in the play that he doesn’t have many opponents,” Magill said. “In the film, Prospero didn’t know who betrayed him, so the mystery becomes part of his false opponent. These are his external opponents. Prospero’s guilt of Miranda — his wife’s death — becomes his internal opponent. These conflicts make the film dramatic.”

Magill said he wants to use this film to show people in Northern Ireland how to properly respond to betrayal instead of using violence.

“I want to examine the process of how this man, Prospero, chose to forgive, and we can learn from that to apply in Northern Ireland,” Magill said. “Northern Ireland needs to be reminded of how to forgive.”

He said he sees the problems in the society in Northern Ireland, and he is dedicated to educating people through filmmaking.

“I’m using film as a media to shadow this incident, and I hope to inform people of justice,” Magill said.  “All sorts of themes in the film — conspiracy, vengeance, and cover-up — parallel some part of the reality in Northern Ireland — the abuse of power, or corruption, etc. In a film, when you mix things together, people would get to think about what is real and unreal, and begin to reflect about reality.”

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