THE CHARNEL GROUND (2022)
Co-Director & Editor
After decades in prison, eight men spend their first year of freedom grappling with their past and searching for a future against the backdrop of a crumbling insane asylum in rural Georgia.
The Charnel Ground is a meditation on the wreckage of the American carceral system, as told by those who have survived it. The film confronts the urgent and uncomfortable questions at the heart of the country's volatile uncertainty about who we are and what we truly value. How do we deal with harm in our culture? How do generational patterns of trauma keep us trapped in suffering? And what shifts in consciousness will allow us to finally break these cycles?
In Buddhist tradition, the charnel ground is the above-ground site where bodies are left to decompose. It is a place scattered with putrefying corpses and scavenging animals. In charnel ground practice, practitioners intentionally place themselves in this confronting environment in order to gain understanding of the nature of reality. Without turning away in fear, discomfort, or aversion, practitioners learn to see life as it truly is.
The profound suffering of the charnel ground exists metaphorically in our modern world too, wherever there is despair, deceit, fear, delusion, or rage, be it an abusive household, a refugee camp, even a corporate boardroom. In the words of Roshi Joan Halifax:
Whatever our profession or calling, charnel ground practice is available; we are always sitting in the midst of subtle or obvious suffering. The mire we fall into when we go over the edge—this also is a charnel ground. It’s a place where we have to face our own struggles, and where our compassion for others who are struggling in the depths can grow strong […] When we take a wider view, we see that a charnel ground is not only a place of desolation, but also a place of boundless possibility.
Are we a culture that locks people up and throws away the key? Do we believe in atonement and redemption? How much longer can the fabric of our society sustain this model of carceral punishment over rehabilitation? And what might it feel like to instead enter the charnel ground of human suffering, witness without turning away, and allow ourselves to be changed by what we discover?
(Poster by Adam Keene)