Crusading twins

Crusading twins

Controversy and negative headlines continue to surround multi-national security firm, G4S. Now, its role in abuses allegedly committed at South Africa’s first privately run prison, The Mangaung Prison, has been exposed in Prison For Profit, the new documentary by crusading Dutch filmmakers (and identical twins) Ilse and Femke van Velzen, through their production company IFproductions.


Taking on a company as powerful as G4S is a daunting prospect. That is why the sisters have gone to extreme lengths to ensure they are fully protected legally if the company reacts aggressively to the documentary (a world premiere at IDFA).


“One of the first things we did when we knew that we were sure we wanted to make this film is we talked to Doc Society. They have an amazing record in helping filmmakers making this kind of film,” said Ilse.


Not only have the Van Velzens’ secured the services of Doc Society’s formidable legal counsel Prash Naik (formerly General Counsel for Channel 4). They’ve also secured legal representation from leading Dutch legal firm, De Brauw Blackstone Westbroek.


“The film is crystal clear. For all the allegations made in the film, we have all the evidence,” Ilse said. “It will be really hard for them to come forward with a case. If they sue us, they also have to open their cards and prove they didn’t torture people or inject people with anti-psychotic drugs. I don’t think they want to go down that road.”


“If they do go down that road, we have taken all the steps possible legal to bring out this film,” echoes Femke. The sisters say they are “very ready” for whatever steps the troubled security firm might take against them.


They have sent letters to G4S, the DCS (Department of Correctional Services), and Bloemfontein Correctional Contracts (BCC), the consortium of shareholders who own the prison.


Thus far, no attempts have been made by these organisations to suppress the film. The sisters are steeling themselves for a fight. However, they are also aware of what happened when journalist Ruth Hopkins (who features in the film) when she broke the story about abuses in the jail in 2013. Hopkins’ stories provoked a huge media storm but not much changed in the prison and there was no accountability.


“What these big multinationals do is that they have a great lobby machine,” Ilse noted of the way powerful companies can influence media coverage when their interests are threatened.


G4S has an unlikely ability to bounce back from even the biggest setbacks, such as when, despite its disastrous management of Birmingham Prison in the UK, when the British government had to step in earlier this year to take control of the failing jail and G4S lost its contract, the company continues to tender for new business.


Cinema Delicatessen is handling the Dutch release of Prison For Profit which will take place at the end of March. The film is likely to screen beforehand at the Movies That Matter Festival (20-28 March) in The Hague.


The sisters are now planning an extensive outreach programme for the film in the Netherlands.


“We are still working on this outreach strategy. It is going to be a lot of special screenings we are going to organise. Of course, we are going to talk with  Government because it’s our Government that is outsourcing these public tasks like security,” Femke said.


“The whole idea is to have the film screen in as many places as possible,” Ilse added.


Prison For Profit has been chosen for The Geneva International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights (FIFDH). Organisations including Public Service International have thrown their weight behind the film. A sales agent is expected to be appointed after IDFA.