Voted Most Transformative film at the 15th Annual Crossroads Film Festival, Will To Change is about a three strikes offender from Mississippi who breaks the cycle of violence and addiction in his life and becomes a positive force in his community.
I first learned about Will To Change (W2C) at this year’s Crossroads Film Festival while browsing the tables set up to promote some of the films showing this year. I was drawn to the W2C artwork and scooped up some of the paraphernalia. I can’t remember who started the conversation but one of W2C’s filmmakers, Chandler Griffin ended up inviting my husband and I to attend the movie’s screening that day. We were leaving but we came back just to see this film.
W2C is the story of William Kozielski, a 29-year-old parolee who is breaking the cycle of violence in his community, and mentoring youth out of gangs and delinquent behavior. The film was created as a talking tool for youth and residents of Clarksdale, Mississippi to address root causes of violence and to seek solutions together, and is available to support community screenings.
About halfway through the documentary my husband and I realized that we were seated next to the boys in the film. They were happy to be recognized and found our slow realization hilarious. After the screening we were introduced to William and the director Alison Fast.
I recently connected again with both Alison and William to get a little background on the film, their views on its impact, and to see what they each have going on.
Interview with William Kozielski
LM: How difficult was it to allow the cameras to follow you around and how many hours a day were they there?
William Kozielski: I almost got used to it. They were with me when I woke up in the morning until I fell asleep at night so within a week or so I was used to seeing them. What I couldn’t get used to was that whenever I went out in public and the cameras were following me it caused everyone to stare. Constantly being followed with stares was disconcerting a lot of the time.
LM: It’s important to get this film circulating within school systems, are the schools reaching out to you to do speaking engagements or are the numbers a little disappointing at this point given the seriousness of the subject matter?
WK: Schools in Clarksdale have not contacted us. I have been to speak at an MDOC pre-release program, and will be speaking at the rehab center in Clarksdale. I was also invited to go to the federal court house in Jackson and spoke with various judges who had seen the movie. I have not spoken at as many places as I thought would contact me from the movie, however through word of mouth I have heard about the DVDs reaching many places and starting good conversations about change, ways to reach out to the youth, and addressing issues many inmates face when they are being released.
LM: I know there’s a difference but having been on the big screen in a documentary, does that make you want to try your hand at acting?
WK: Watching myself on the big screen I tried to keep myself pretty humble because this is all thanks to God. I was really excited to see myself up on screen, but I reminded myself this is the will of God, and God that I am representing. Acting in and of it self could be cool – trying anything new is fun, but I haven’t given it much thought.
LM: What’s going on in your life now?
WK: I have gotten married. I am now happily married to Elena. We actually eloped and will be having the ceremony next summer so that Elena’s family from Germany has an opportunity to attend. We have since getting married moved into a new house. Starting in a new place with my wife has been wonderful. We are both still going to school and active in the church. G.R.I.O.T after school program will be expanding as of August to include a Cafe for the kids that are currently in G.R.I.O.T as well as other youth in the community a job opportunity and work training so that they gain skills in work etiquette and work ethic. I will be co directing the cafe starting August.
LM: Can you give a brief update on the boys you mentor in the film?
WK: The boys are wonderful. They are all doing well. They all passed this year and will be going into the 11th and 12th grades. My wife is currently working at the G.R.I.O.T summer camp with them. After summer camp they are all doing internships in the city.
Interview with Alison Fast
LM: Was your awareness already there regarding reentry or did William’s story bring it to your attention?
Alison Fast: William’s story was a wake up to call to me. Before this film, I was like every other visitor to the Delta, focused on music and culture. I realized there is another story happening in the background and there is something we can all do about it by creating awareness and support for the challenge of reentry.
LM: How did Williams’s story come to your attention? Were you actively looking for someone or did you meet him and then came the idea?
AF: Chandler and I were leading our annual documentary filmmaking workshop in Clarksdale in February of 2013, and when we went into the community to look for stories, I found William through Janet Courin, a volunteer at G.R.I.O.T. Arts. When no one in our workshop opted to tell William’s story, Chandler and I managed to return a month later with the help of The Mississippi Film Office teach workshops at the Crossroads Film Festival. This was April of 2013. We called the Mayor Bill Luckett in Clarksdale and told him our intention to tell William’s story and he responded immediately, arranging housing for us for the full month. Cali Noland, Director of G.R.I.O.T. Arts, loaned us a spare car she had. We then called on a friend and colleague in Los Angeles, Natalie Irby of Corner To Corner Productions, and her heart is close to this issue, so she agreed to serve as Executive Producer, and sponsor production costs.
It really came together in a miraculous way, within a matter of days. Six months later, Ms. Betty Lou Jones of Meridian, who serves on the parole board, introduced me to the Department of Corrections Commissioner, Christopher Epps. MDOC made the decision to investment in the film as an intervention tool at prerelease and reentry stages, and guaranteed use of the film in all of its programming. That is how the film was completed. It was a collaborative effort involving many caring individuals. And of course, the participation of people like William Kozielski, and the young man he mentors, Larvell Hemphill, who both generously and courageously offered to share their stories.
LM: When was the film released?
AF: April 2014 at the Crossroads Film Festival.
LM: How long did shooting take?
AF: We shot over approximately twelve days in the course of a month.
LM: Do you plan to do a follow up documentary?
AF: At this stage, we would like to secure funding to measure the impact the film has on different audiences in order to ensure the film has a long shelf life, both inside and outside of the state. Will To Change marks the first time the Mississippi Department of Corrections has permitted documentation of an inmate or parolee, so we would like to take advantage of this rare opportunity to evidence how positive success stories can change people’s lives. Repeated exposure to positive stories can help people to model new behaviors and learn new responses to challenges in their lives.
Beyond this film, my partner, Chandler Griffin, and I are committed to telling stories that highlight “bright spots” and story solutions that can be spread across the state. We are dedicated to finding and making visible people like William who are modeling new ways of dealing with old problems, and helping small towns to be more connected and responsive to these challenges.
Stay tuned to our FB Page to track our progress: https://www.facebook.com/BlueMagnoliaFilms
LM: What expectations do you have for the film when it airs at the Sundance Film Festival?
AF: The film is not airing at Sundance but was shown at a Sundance-sponsored panel discussion, although we plan to submit to that festival and others this year.
LM: What project(s) are you currently working on?
AF: Through a series we are calling, “Celebrating Storytellers”, we are telling stories of creativity and resilience in small towns across the state leading up to Mississippi’s Bicentennial- https://www.facebook.com/celebratingstorytellers
LM: Tell us a little bit about Barefoot Workshops
AF: Chandler Griffin is the Founder of Barefoot Workshops, a New York City-based, nonprofit organization 501(c)3 that trains organizations and individuals to use digital filmmaking to transform their communities from within- http://www.barefootworkshops.org
Since 2005, Barefoot Workshops has hosted twenty-five documentary filmmaking and photography workshops in Clarksdale, Mississippi for students from twenty-four countries.
Having distributed more than eighty stories back into the community, we seek to extend our program to an additional five north Mississippi towns by 2017, using Clarksdale as our base, and to continue surfacing untold stories for community outreach and educational purposes.
Each year Barefoot Workshops hosts traditional full-immersion documentary workshops in the Mississippi Delta and Cape Town South Africa, ranging from one to three weeks in length, open to students and mid-career professionals with beginner through advanced levels of training.
Griffin hosts numerous world-renowned professionals as part of our programming, such as Ron Haviv, a co-founder of the photo agency VII, World Press Photo Awards Winner, Les Stone, and Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer, David Turnley. In addition to a final screening that culminates each workshop, we have begun to offer an impressive lecture series with our esteemed instructors that are free and open to the public.
Barefoot Workshops has trained more than forty civil society organizations in the Middle East, most recently in Libya after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi. In South Africa, Barefoot Workshops has innovated new applications of media in the areas of public health (HIV/AIDS). Chandler and his wife, Alison Fast have also trained civil society leaders, refugees, displaced persons, youth in post conflict areas, and staff and beneficiaries, to produce media for their own communities.
Past partners/funders include: The U.S. Department of State, FilmAid International, FXB International, PLAN USA, Nurturing Orphans of AIDS for Humanity (NOAH), Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation, Generation of Leaders Discovered (GOLD), UNAIDS and UNESCO.
Examples of NGO-produced videos can be viewed in the Gallery section of our web site:
To support the filmmakers’ outreach program for at risk youths in Clarksdale, MS, go to https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/will-to-change-film-outreach to contribute.
Visit w2cmovie.com to buy the film or find screening information.