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The Cooler Bandits at Pan African Film Festival

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The Cooler Bandits is a coming of age story of sorts. The film follows the lives of four boys -- Frankie, Donovan, Charlie and Poochie -- who became men behind bars. In 1991, not understanding the full consequences of their actions, the teens made the poor decision to engage in a series of restaurant robberies in Akron, Ohio. At each of the restaurants, they forced their victims to go into the restaurant's cooler. Immediately after leaving the scene of the crime, they'd call the police to make sure no one was physically injured and no one was.

Cooler Bandits Free Screening

When they were arrested and tried, they received prison sentences of up to 500 years. From 2006-2013, the four friends are followed through incarceration as they struggle to confront their futures. The film humanizes the staggering statistic of African-American men branded felons for life.

The Cooler Bandits is a feature length documentary film that shines a light on the wave of over sentencing, mass incarceration and a system designed to brand criminals felons for life. This film documents their personal journeys of survival, redemption and attempts at reintegration into society.

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Director John Lucas attempts to peel away the statistics of mass incarceration and bring forward the complex humanities of four men who inhabit these statistics. Over a period of twenty years, visiting them in jail and corresponding through letters, he watched the boys grow into men. As difficult as their lives were, he admired the close bonds they had with each other.

This film seeks neither to apologize for their actions nor excuse their past; the director only wishes to represent how certain lives get constructed and in the end how belonging, if only to each other, matters.

The Cooler Bandits at Pan African Film Festival

Saturday, February 7 @ 4:20pm;

Monday, February 9 @ 3:40pm;

Tuesday, February 10 @ 1:15pm

Pan African Film Festival

"I have a dozen reasons to tell you why this is real, but I'll just give you one - these four men went into prison at 18 and 19 years old. They maintained their friendship, their sense of self, and really their commitment to believing that they were more than their worst moments. But this documentary is real because it just presents their life. It's not a pitch, it's just the world that you've ignored, the humanity that we've ignored."

-- R. Dwayne Betts

Soros Justice Fellow and member of President Obama's Coordinating Council on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention