In 1974, a trio of graduate students at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television embarked on a unique documentary project to give voice to incarcerated women as part of a community-engagement class project.

Michie Gleason, Christine Lesiak and Kathy Levitt offered materials and training to women imprisoned at the California Institution for Women in Chino, at the time the largest women’s prison in the United States. Los Angeles remains home to one of the largest prison systems in the world, and incarceration of women and girls increased by more than 475% from 1980 to 2020, according to the Sentencing Project, an advocacy group.

Capturing the consciousness-raising style of dialogue that defined feminist discourse in the 1970s, the women share an acute perspective on prison abolition informed by experiences of gendered and racialized discrimination and economic disenfranchisement, the effects of drug addiction and the parole board’s abuse of power. Several participants discuss recognize the camaraderie — political, platonic and romantic — that they experienced in prison.

Now that film is finally coming to public view, after being digitally restored by the UCLA Film & Television Archive with funding provided by the Columbia Motion Picture Research Fund.

The world premiere is sponsored and hosted by UCLA’s Center for the Study of Women | Streisand Center and the Archive, bringing together anti-carceral advocates from the campus and larger community for the free screening, which will include a Q&A.

The backstory about how this powerful film came to be remained something of a mystery until Levitt, while attending the 2022 UCLA Festival of Preservation, introduced herself to Film & Television Archive staff members, and mentioned the film she co-produced as a UCLA student.

At last, this powerful, and once orphaned film has returned to UCLA and with it the strong, clear voices of incarcerated women telling their stories of being alive.


Saturday, Jan. 28 at 7:30 p.m.


Billy Wilder Theater at the Hammer Museum
10899 Wilshire Blvd.


Post-film discussion will be held immediately following screening (49 minutes). Participants include:

  • “We’re Alive” filmmakers Michie Gleason, Christine Lesiak, Kathy Levitt, all alumnae of the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television
  • May Hong HaDuong, director, UCLA Film & Television Archive, a division of UCLA Library
  • Grace Hong, director, UCLA Center for the Study of Women | Streisand Center
  • Colby Lenz, deputy director of policy and community research at the Streisand Center
  • Romarilyn Ralston and Susan Bustamante, members of the California Coalition for Women Prisoners, both of whom experienced incarceration at the California Institution for Women


Hammer Museum visitor lot


Rosie Grant |

Marisa Soto |