prisoner landscapes


i’ve never been the type to be influenced by filmmakers [which is one of the many reasons why i never considered directing as a possible artistic venture] but last year i was introduced to three films that later offered me the confidence and language to express myself via the moving image.

  1. CAMERAPERSON dir by kirsten johnson
  2. THE PRISON IN 12 LANDSCAPES dir by brett story
  3. DREAM CITY dir by emma piper-burkett

all three documentaries were released in 2016, directed and d.p’ed by women, and expanded the template of the traditional ‘doc’ to include intimate personal portraits, meta-experimental, and political vignettes.

themes dealing with landscapes, politics, and personhood connect the diverse trio. y’all should check it out. what films influenced u?

Singapore was known as Great Britain’s Gibraltar of the East before it collapsed and capitulated like the Batavia of the North. Now the Japanese, rudely ignoring propaganda about Singapore’s invincibility, had imprisoned the British in their own fortress. A total of about fifty thousand Allied prisoners were in Singapore, including thirteen thousand Australians and a small minority of about eight hundred Americans. Among them was a young British private named James Clavell, whose eventual novel King Rat would be based on his experience as a Singapore POW.
“Changi was a school for survivors,” he would write. “It gave me a strength most people don’t have…. Changi became my university instead of my prison.”
Observing the landscaped idyll of their surroundings and the cock-of-the-walk sureness of the British officer corps nominally administering it, the Houston sailors could never quite fathom Changi.
"It was the strangest thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” said Otto Schwarz. “These guys acted as if they were on regimental maneuvers.”
The British had had eight months since February 15, 1942, to acclimate themselves to captivity. Though their pride was wounded, they were on the surface still in charge, brightly so and with bucked-up spirits. Save for the daily tenkos and the occasional presence of Sikh soldiers who had turned coat and served the emperor, scarcely a Japanese soldier or guard was in sight.
Howard Charles asked himself, “Why don’t they make a run for the wall? They could make it; just by sheer numbers they could overwhelm these guards and go somewhere…. I remember asking a few of them that, and they just looked at me with a cold stare, like, ‘You’ve got to be out of your head.’”
Everyday life as prisoners at Singapore had the aura of an absurd dream: the posturing of the British, pretending at command; the Japanese, lurking unseen like puppeteers; the manicured enclave turning dingy under occupation; creeping hunger blanching any illusion of order and civilization; the future, clouded in doubt.
—  Ship of Ghosts, by James Hornfischer