EXCLUSIVE: Warner Bros will develop a film about the Bard Prison Initiative debate team. The BPI program, founded by Max Kenner while an undergraduate at Bard, spawned a debate team comprised of prison inmates from Eastern New York Correctional Facility who made global headlines in 2015 when they beat the Harvard debate team in competition. The film will be about the inmates who rose to the occasion on the debate team.
Andrew Lazar is producing through his WB-based Mad Chance banner. Set to write the script is Kay Oyegun, who was nominated for a WGA Award for her work on This Is Us. She separately scripted a film about Angela Davis for Lionsgate.
The BPI runs across six campuses at New York State prisons. Low levels of literacy create tremendous hardship for the 650,000 prisoners who are released in the U.S. each year. That and the reluctance to hire former convicts leads to high levels of recidivism.
BPI has pointed to another way toward lowering the level of recidivism through education and advocacy that has shown promise in breaking the cycle of incarceration among the inmates who’ve earned college degrees through the program. The potential is personified by the BPI debate team, which started in 2013, and has gone on to win five of their seven debates to date. The broader program, including the debate team, will be the focus of an upcoming 2018 feature documentary from acclaimed filmmaker Ken Burns and Lynn Novick.
Niija Kuykendall will oversee for the studio. Oyegun is repped by ICM Partners and Underground.