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ARGENTINA: Bringing Films – and Filmmakers – to Prison

Marcela Valente

BUENOS AIRES, Sep 26 2006 (IPS) - A pilot project with recreational and social reinsertion goals was launched in Argentina to show films in prison, followed by discussions between the inmates, the filmmakers and actors, and experts on the issues touched on by the movies.

“The women were grateful; it was very moving,” Clara Sajnovsky, a former white-collar inmate who heads the programme, told IPS after showing the first film this month in the Instituto Correccional de Mujeres de Ezeiza, a women’s federal prison on the outskirts of Buenos Aires.

Some 300 women – over half of the inmates at the Ezeiza prison – showed up to watch “TV Service”, a feature-length film by Mariano Cohen and Gastón Duprat whose cast is made up of residents of a Buenos Aires slum neighbourhood, “Villa 20”.

After the film, the directors talked with the prisoners. The inmates were especially curious about how they worked with non-actors, and became enthusiastic about the possibility of replicating the experience in prison. “Many of the women believe they could also tell their stories on film,” said Sajnovsky.

The idea is to hold a screening on the first Tuesday of every month for a year, showing films selected by the national film institute (INCAA) and the producers of the international film festival held every year in the resort town of Mar del Plata, said Sajnovsky.

INCAA and the film festival organisers will provide a mobile cinema, complete with a projector, screen, speakers, a van – and the films themselves.

The film institute said that if the pilot project is successful, monthly screenings will begin to be held in all of the country’s federal prisons, with the support of the “national directorate of social readaptation” in the Justice Ministry’s under-secretariat of penitentiary affairs.

Sajnovsky, 55, abandoned her profession as a criminal lawyer to go into finance. But in 1996 she was jailed for fraud, spending nearly nine years in the Ezeiza prison before her release in 2004. “No one comes out the same; you lose your family, your friends, everything,” she said.

Having personally experienced the lack of incentives for social reinsertion, Sajnovsky began to work in prison to create a civil society association with other lawyers and professionals in the social sciences that took shape under the name “Por la Vuelta Clara” (roughly: “for a clean return”).

“The association’s aim is to work towards the social reinsertion of female ex-convicts, starting with those who are still in prison, offering them possibilities of taking part in vocational training, as well as educational, cultural and artistic projects,” she explained.

The “Film in the Prisons” initiative would appear to be ideal for generating new activities, in which the entire prison community can be included, INCAA stated in a communiqué released at the presentation of the project.

The possibility of forming part of cultural projects that restore inmates to an active place in society is very positive, as is the promotion of opportunities for the “inside” and “outside” to coexist in the same space, and to get to know each other, it added.

One of the aspects that awoke the greatest enthusiasm in the Justice Ministry was the possibility of post-screening discussions between the prison audience and the directors and actors, to contribute to social reintegration.

“We are not going to show films focused on conflicts, or movies that show how to escape from prison, for instance, but we do want to generate debate,” said Sajnovsky.

Experts who can shed light on issues raised by the films, including psychologists, lawyers, doctors or drug rehabilitation counselors, will also take part in the discussions after the screenings.

Sajnovsky believes it will not be easy, but she is confident that the experience can be replicated in other prisons, and that it will contribute to social reinsertion.

“No one can reintegrate in a society that has decided to exclude you and shut you up in a place where you live in overcrowded conditions, without access to the most basic things in life,” she said.

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