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Guest House 2018

Highly Recommended

Distributed by Good Docs
Produced by Hannah Dweck and Yael Luttwak
Directed by Hannah Dweck and Yael Luttwak
Streaming, 75 mins

College - General Adult
Addiction; Mental Health Services; Prisoners

Date Entered: 07/06/2020

Reviewed by Gisèle Tanasse, University of California Berkeley

Guest House is a feature length documentary, showcasing the experiences of formerly incarcerated women at a 6 month residential program in Virginia.

When the filmmakers expertly drop the viewers along with two newly released women at Guest House, nobody knows quite what to expect. We soon discover an intentionality to the residential program which not only facilitates establishing a new daily routine, but also provides the emotional and psychological support needed to work through the shame and grief born out of addiction and incarceration. While the benefits of the Guest House approach to fostering warmth while holding residents accountable are clear, the significant lack of funds and space to meet demand are sobering: for each woman given a spot at Guest House, 15 cannot be accommodated.

Through profound interviews conducted over time, we see how trauma, abuse and family histories have contributed to the women’s current situations. Guest House is therefore a valuable addition to courses focused on incarceration studies and prison reform, especially in its ability to communicate the very human experience of formerly incarcerated women and people who have experienced addiction.

Above all, the greatest strength of the film in the academic environment is how effectively it shows the impact of different counseling practices on individuals, specifically in their ability to make sense of their experiences (from AA meetings and creative writing, to analyzing genograms, to job training and planning career paths, to exercise routines and building confidence). Though 80% of people released will relapse without the program, only 10% of women who graduate from the Guest House program recidivate. Indeed, the positive cycle of new admits developing into leaders within the home before moving on to independent apartment living demonstrates what can be accomplished in a short time frame with an effective program.

Guest House is highly recommended for college and general adults and would seem a valuable addition to high school classrooms focused on issues of incarceration and addiction. Above and beyond being a highly informative program, the filmmakers compellingly capture the full human experience of these incredible women, with laughter, heartaches, fears and hopes in a way that leaves me rooting for each individual and marveling at where they might be today.


Prisoner Justice Prize, Social Justice Film Festival