Hot Docs 2012: My Thoughts on Herman’s House

Herman’s House is about two people – Herman Wallace and Jackie Sumell.  Wallace was Black Panther member, who was falsely accused of murdering a prison guard and has been kept in solitary confinement at Angola prison for about 40 years.  Jackie is an artist and activist, who collaborated with Wallace on an art project in which she would design his ideal house, which kick-starts a friendship and a very touching and sad story.

Throughout the film, Wallace is only heard through telephone interviews, in which he talks about his time in solitary confinement and his dreams about he would do if he was released.  The bulk of the film focuses on Jackie and her mission to raise awareness to Wallace’s situation by creating her art project, which was shown as an exhibition in over 7 countries.  Afterwards, Jackie sets out on a goal to actually build the house she and Wallace designed.

Even though it’s not at the forefront of the story, the film does raise some issues about the penitentiary system.  It is argued the Wallace’s extended time in solitary confinement is cruel and unusually punishment, especially since the prison seems to be purposely keeping him their, without giving his case a proper review.

The film follows Jackie over a number of years and even though she faces some hardships in her goal to both free Wallace and build his house, she refuses to give up on him.  It is definitely sad that Wallace, who at the time the film was made was pushing 70, is more likely now to die in prison than see the outside world again.

Overall, I thought it was a decent enough doc.  Of course, being a bit of an activist film, viewers are encouraged to visit the film’s website and learn more about the cause.


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Sean Kelly Author

Sean Patrick Kelly is a self-described über-geek, who has been an avid film lover for all his life. He graduated from York University in 2010 with an honours B.A. in Cinema and Media Studies and he likes to believe he knows what he’s talking about when he writes about film (despite occasionally going on pointless rants).