Oldenburg to screen films in prison

Fest will unspool five pics at correctional facility

For anyone who has ever fantasized about a life in jail, the Oldenburg Intl. Film Festival may be the place to go.

Improbably turning its high-security prison into a featured attraction, the festival will hold five screenings behind bars — at the prison theater with inmates and the public each getting 60 of the coveted 120 tickets.

“It’s quite possible that a bank robber will end up sitting next to a bank director,” says Oldenburg’s topper Torsten Neumann.

The idea was born when Neumann hit it off with the topper of the JVA Oldenburg correctional facility, Gerd Koop, at a festival party several years ago — and they decided to try to find a way to link their two very different enterprises.

“His view is that ‘tomorrow they’re going to be our neighbors again’ and that’s why he wants to try to keep the prisoners connected to the outside world as much as possible,” says Neumann. “It worked out well the first time we tried it three years ago and it’s been a highlight of the festival ever since. It’s a fabulous experience — both for the inmates and the civilians going in.”

It may be impossible to distinguish the inmates from the public because the prisoners are not required to wear their usual jail uniform during the screenings. And so far there have been no escape attempts.

Neumann says the prisoners “have a very high level of discipline” and file out of the theater afterwards before any of the civilians are let out of the jail. Demand for the tickets among festivalgoers and inmates is high, he says.

“Everyone wants to go in,” Neumann says. “It’s a fascinating, if brief, glimpse of what it’s like behind bars. Obviously there are security procedures we have to go through. There’s no box office outside the prison for anyone who comes at the last minute. All the names have to be screened well in advance.”

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