Olivier Lambert (left) and Thomas Salva (right), Photo courtesy of Olivier Lambert
It started one night at a party in France. There, Olivier Lambert met Thomas Salva and they started to discuss creating their first film together.
The two had different backgrounds Lambert was born in in Périgueux, south of France and lived briefly in Chad in Africa as a child before his family settled in what he described in a recent interview as “a small isolated village” in Burgundy. His studies took him to Paris, Sydney, Australia and then back to Paris where he earned a degree in Journalism. Salva was born and raised in Cherbourg before studying cinema at a university in Caen and then moving to Paris to study photography at the famed Les Gobelins school.
Differences aside, their shared love of cinema, set them on their journey together. As Lambert explained, “First we made a portraits series of ‘normal people with unexpected,’ Brèves de trottoirs, [which translates to Sidewalk Shorts] which is a web platform with 18 short documentaries. This project won the Webby Award in 2011 for the best online documentary series, so it launched our career as filmmakers.”
Their second project together was an “investigative journalism web platform about an historical event that happened in France during the War of Algeria” called La Nuit Oubliée 17 octobre 1961 — The Forgotten Night. Following that, they decided to launch their own production company, Lumento, to pursue their slate of projects.
For their first feature documentary, the two French nationals decided to travel to the heart of Texas to tell a very American tale.
According to Lambert, “Chasing Bonnie & Clyde is a powerful film odyssey across Midwest that explores the mentality change in the Texas justice system from tough-on-crime solutions to the latest Smart on Crime programs that offer second chances to the criminals. Eighty years after Bonnie and Clyde, young criminals are now being offered a second chance and if Texas can give examples of social justice, every democracy can be inspired by this example.”
He described the Smart on Crime, saying, “Basically the State of Texas has been implementing Smart on Crime programs since 2007 with this question in mind — how do we break the cycle of people going to prison for the first time or coming back to prison? So it's about finding ways in prison, but also before going to prison (prevention) and after prison (reentry programs) in order to prevent criminality.”
The methods used in Smart on Crime vary. “It can be a wide variety of activities like psychological/drug/alcoholic treatment, education, sports, cooking, art, entrepreneurship or even religion,” noted Lambert. “It's comfort zones where cons or ex-cons can feel safe and rebuild who they are and get a second chance.”
How did two men from small towns in France decide to make a film about the U.S. penal system? Lambert recounted, “Olivier's girlfriend found out about the Bonnie and Clyde files, which were declassified by the FBI. To her, these characters had everything to make a proper cinematic experience. So we started looking into the story because, yes, of course, Bonnie and Clyde are cinematic characters and we found that it would be amazing to make our first feature length in the USA.”
They were also fascinated to take a look at the notion that the state of Texas had a different perspective on justice. “Who would expect that this tough on crime, conservative, death penalty master [of] guns lovers would also be able to think, ‘Hey, you know what, prisons are too expensive and if we help criminals, if we give them a second chance with real solutions for their reentry, it will cost us less and it will be better for the society.’ That's amazing,” acknowledged Lambert.
Ultimately, Lambert and Salva wanted to deliver a message, “We always hear stories about people going to the wrong side of the law. It could happen to us, too. So, it was our motivation to make this film. We wanted to bring to audiences, but also to society, the fact that there are solutions to deal with criminals, there is hope for criminals, there is hope to make our world a better place, and that all of this can come from the most unexpected place.”
The concept isn’t just theoretical. Lambert and Salva present an example in the film that proves that the Smart on Crime program can work. “Jason, the main character of the movie… is truly a success story. He is so subtle when he shares his story, it's not about saying ‘I was a bad guy.’ Not at all. He is focused on ‘now I'm someone because I make great things happen.’ And, that's very inspiring and powerful.”
And, of course, the film made Lambert and Salva reflect on the infamous man in their film’s title. “The parallel with Clyde Barrow’s story was amazing because we truly understood that Clyde Barrow could have been a hero, or at least a very good guy, very talented with many things. So it's all about this very fine line between the good and the bad, and it's all about staying on the good line or giving the ability to people to go on the good side of this line.”
Lambert and Salva’s interest in the Smart on Crime program doesn’t just end with the release of their film. Lambert went into a bit of detail on their ongoing action plan, “When we started working on the film we thought there was a big lack in the system — nobody centralizes the Smart on Crime programs. So we want… to create a collaborative map where all the initiatives about prevention, rehabilitation, reentry can be gathered together. Through this map, any person or organization can pin an initiative, a program, a NGO that works in the field of ‘second chance.’ To develop this project, we partnered with the open project MakeSense.org.”
He explained the organization’s mission statement, “MakeSense.org developed thanks to a gang of social business activists from all around the world. MakeSense.org and its SenseMakers have two purposes — first, source the challenges of social entrepreneurs and second, get people together worldwide so that they take up and solve those challenges in real life during events called hold-up. MakeSense.org provides a method in order to ensure the quality of the event and an effective result, which is of course open to any other entrepreneur.”
In exchange, the philanthropic organization is helping support Chasing Bonnie & Clyde, “MakeSense.org has helped us, for example, to raise awareness during our crowd funding campaign to fund the film but then also to organize screenings and for this project it allows us to reach entrepreneurs and Smart on Crime programs all over the world and spread the word about this project.”
In the end, Lambert said that he and Salva hope audiences take one thing away from watching the film. “We would love people to ask themselves about the justice system in their country and the way criminals are considered. Our film is a way to say, ‘Texas does good things. It's unexpected so it can happen anywhere.’ Especially, for example, now in Europe where far right people are elected. It is fearful. Or even in the US, the fact Donald Trump is President and has very harsh words against pretty much anyone is very scary. One could think it was and is still is worse in the state of Texas. Well, yes, but good things happen, too. So, there is always hope.”
To learn more about Chasing Bonnie & Clyde, visit the film’s official website.