The Prisoner of the Iron Bars opens with a fabulously arresting image: reverse slo-mo shots of the prison being demolished. Walls rise up, smoke billows downwards, chunks of rubble leap upwards into the building. This film is a record, shot by the prisoners themselves, of the last seven months of Brazil’s Carandiru prison, site of the notorious massacre of eleven inmates in the ‘90s.
We all want to go to jail, though we’d rather it was from the comfort of an armchair and not in person. Prisons belong to those secretive, menacing, oddly alluring institutions that have always attracted documentary-makers and we hope will attract audiences reared on TV cop shows. Giving the camera to the prisoners themselves is not new; in fact, the BBC once had an entire series from behind UK cell doors, ‘Prison Weekly’. This film holds out the promise of more: the inside story of “the Gates of Hell”, Latin America’s biggest jail, complete with crack-smoking, knives and slashings.
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