Sharon Lockhart’s project Baumettes seeks to create a different kind of cinema for (and about) an environment where the cinematic experience is not possible – prisons.
At FID Marseille 2019, US artist and director Sharon Lockhart met two significant others. One was Jacqui Davies of UK production company PRIMITIVE FILM. The other was Annie Metais, inmate at Marseille’s Baumettes prison, an institution that provides the jurors for the festival’s Renaud Victor Prize. For all three the meeting was both instructive and inspiring, and led to the development of the Baumettes project, pitched at FID Lab 2020.
“In talking to Annie and the participants of the jury, I was affected by their sincere and considered appreciation of cinema and its relation to their everyday lives,” says Lockhart in a statement she recorded for the pitch event. “As we talked about the films we had seen and what they meant to us, we came to see the beginnings of a project, a discussion that we wanted to continue and somehow record.”
“As COVID-19 has changed all of our lives, this conversation has continued and developed through images, texts and translations into a meditation on cinema, dreaming, feminism, incarceration, frustration, isolation and liberty.”
The project’s raison d’etre is audacious, imaginative and progressive. What if the filmmakers could find “another kind of cinema in a situation where our usual understanding of the cinematic experience is not possible,” the filmmakers asked, and so are now working with Metais, herself a psychologist (and no longer in prison), to script a “meditation experience” to be shared with current Baumettes female inmates who will be encouraged to make audio recordings of their thoughts, stories and reflections, from which a visual discourse will develop.
The “internal cinema” of the women should, argues Metais, supply excellent base material for the film. “[In prison] it’s not so much that there is space for dreaming, it’s rather that dreaming takes up the whole space,” she says. “For inmates, cinema is an opening to the outside, to the imaginary. It gives a voice. And that’s extremely important because in prison, the only right we have is the right to shut up.”
Producer Davis adds: “Motivated by Annie’s powerful reflections on cinema we developed ideas about how cinema travels across walls and between cultures [and] in particular on the lives of prisoners who have no control over their physical space, time or movement. I see all forms of cinema as spaces inhabited by ghosts and memory and I am interested in it as a kind of dream space. Cinema is a place where we sit close to strangers in the dark and where at the same time we are totally alone in the time and space of the film.”
Under the pandemic, the project takes on even greater significance, she argues. “In cinema, as in dreams, we are physically in one reality while experiencing another. In conditions of incarceration, cinema has the intoxicating capacity to provide escape. During Covid 19, international lockdown has closed access to prisons and also access to cinemas. Looking at these conditions we developed the concept of the film further. What if our usual cinematic experience was no longer possible. Could we then find another kind of cinema? There have been many accounts of people experiencing extremely vivid dreams or nightmares in lockdown. There have also been compelling accounts of the effect of prison confinement on the dream lives of inmates… Together we came to the idea of meditation or self-hypnosis as offering another kind of cinematic possibility.”
The €350,000 90-minute project is at early development stage. “I see it as a film for festivals, but also there is much VOD and broadcast potential for the project.”
Of director Lockhart, whom Davies met just a year ago but whose work she has long admired, she is very complimentary: “I have worked with a lot of artists and am very interested in the slippage between cinema and the art world, and Sharon really sits within that space. She is an incredibly thoughtful artist, very rigorous, but she also makes very cinematic work.”