Lockdown, USA chronicles hip-hop impresario Russell Simmons' quest to repeal New York State's Rockefeller Drug Laws, which can send first-time, nonviolent drug offenders to prison for 15 years to life. These laws have sparked a contentious debate between lawmakers, who argue that drug traffickers deserve the stiffest penalties; and the Laws' opponents, who believe that sentences for novice criminals are too harsh, given that rapists can be released from prison after only four years. Forty-eight states have adopted laws based on the New York statutes, sending the mothers and fathers of over 4 million children in the U.S. to prison. Wanda Best is raising her five children alone after her husband Darryl was given 15 years to life for signing for a neighbor's FedEx package, which, unknown to him, was filled with cocaine. This film gives us a first-hand view of the emotional turmoil that the Best family struggles with on a daily basis. To spread the word, Simmons assembles a rally, and enlists the help of his hip-hop and pop music peers-among them 50 Cent, P. Diddy, and Mariah Carey-to help raise awareness with New York City's youth. After orchestrating the rally, Simmons travels upstate with Andrew Cuomo and Benjamin Chavis to receive a crash course on political negotiating with New York Governor George Pataki. This is an enlightening and informative documentary about a complex issue that deeply affects both New York and the country.
Michael Skolnik co-directed Hooked: The Legend of Demetrius Hook Mitchell (TFF 2003) and the award-winning feature On the Outs (2004 Toronto Film Festival), and is currently directing a Netflix-produced doc about King Mswati III, the last ruling monarch in Africa. With Rebecca Chaiklin, he is also codirecting Cry Haiti, a documentary about hip-hop artist Wyclef Jean and his mission to bring peace to his homeland of Haiti. Rebecca Chaiklin has produced several films, including Midnight in Cuba and Zoe Cassavetes' Men Make Women Crazy Theory. Chaiklin directed Hardball, produced by Barry Levinson and Tom Fontana; and The Party's Over, a feature documentary on the 2000 presidential election, featuring Philip Seymour Hoffman. She is the producer of Posterboy (TFF 2004), which releases theatrically later this year. Chaiklin is also executive-producing a doc on "bling" culture in hip-hop and the effects of Sierra Leone's corrupt conflict diamond trade.