Florence Jaugey’s seemingly matter-of-fact docu explores life behind bars at Nicaragua’s largest prison for young inmates, many of whom are slated to serve terms longer than their ages. Entering the jail to teach a video course, Jaugey records the day-to-day routines, aspirations and frustrations of her 10 prisoner students while encouraging them to document their own realities on tape. The emotional availability of the youths makes for a memorable educational docu, while subtler visual ploys give aesthetic scope to pic without ever turning “arty” or self-reflective. Future looks brightest on public TV and cable.
Jaugey’s strong compositions provide a framework for the young convicts’ limited experience and poverty of options, playing on a constant but subtle shifting of open and closed-off spaces (it’s often hard to tell which side of the bars constitutes being “locked in). For the inmates — who appear to be in their early 20s and were involved in gangs committing crimes as serious as murder and manslaughter — the camera is seized upon as a direct means of communication, either to each other (one freed young man sets his son on his knee to send a video letter full of advice and exhortations back to his ex-buds) or to the outside world (participating in a “prison fair,” the apprentice filmmakers show their confessional videos to a rapt audience of weeping relatives).
As lenser Pineda’s camera unobtrusively circles around the class, it repeatedly catches glimpses of the inmates themselves in the process of filming. Curiously, though pic often follows the itineraries traced by their cameras, rarely does it literally show the world through the inmates’ camera eye (always clearly indicated by the inside markings of compositional frame-lines and viewfinder cross-hairs). The constant presence/absence of this “alternate vision” colors the pic, creating an odd reversibility-principle: No convict ever turns his camera back on the filmmaker.