In June we presented a film series, “Prison Images: Incarceration and the Cinema,” that, by bringing together a wide range of films – from provocative, activist documentaries and commercial exploitation cinema to classic escape dramas, and more – sought to counteract mainstream cinema’s tendency to naturalize the phenomenon of the prison system, and instead challenge received notions about the usefulness and effectiveness of punishment. That series included two films – THE CAGE (1966) and DEAD MAN COMING (1973) – made under the auspices of the San Quentin Inmate Film Workshop, a program designed to provide prisoners with the opportunity to learn the basics of filmmaking and produce moving-image works of their own.
In July we extend the series to delve more deeply into the realm of inmate-produced films and videos. This chapter of the series includes works created in collaboration with video-makers Gary Glassman and Wendy Clarke during their successive experiences as artist-in-residence at the California Institution for Men in Chino, California, as well as a selection of documentaries that explore similar programs intended to foster the creation of theater, music, art, and literature by inmates. All of these programs are extraordinary and all-too-rare attempts to provide prisoners with a means to express themselves directly in various forms (often in dialogue with resident artists or other individuals in the outside world), and a space to assert their humanity, which the the prison system so often denies them.