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New Web documentary prize rewards original take on prison life

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2009-09-03

For the first time, a budding genre, Web documentaries, featured at the International Festival of Photojournalism in Perpignan, Visa pour l’Image. A Le production received an award for their original take on prison life.

Watch award-wining Web documentary "The Imprisoned Body"


The Internet has been creeping into every aspect of our lives and its latest stop was the Visa pour l'Image, the International Festival of Photojournalism in the sun-bleached southern French town of Perpignan. This year, the festival inaugurated its first space devoted to web documentaries.


FRANCE 24, in partnership with Radio France Internationale (RFI), launched a competition to reward Internet pioneers who are exploring this new tool. The jury, presided by Samuel Bollendorff, of the photographers’ collective L’Oeil Public (The Public Eye), awarded its first prize to a Le production entitled "The Imprisoned Body", a multimedia story of life in prison focusing on what happens to the bodies of inmates.


“It was our political decision to see how prisoners saw France and French society, it was also a editorial decision to spend energy and money on Web documentaries that give a second life to photos,” explained Soren Seelow, co-author of “The Imprisoned Body”, in an interview with FRANCE 24.


The small Le team - which included journalist Soren Seelow, photographer Leo Ridet, and producers Bernard Monasterolo, Eric Dedier and Karim El Hadj - took five months to produce their Web documentary. Their work was coordinated by editor-in-chief Boris Razon.


The body behind bars


“The Imprisoned Body”, as Seelow explains, “relates the power struggle between man and prison system.” The team's Web documentary is a journey into the prisoners’ intimacy. Or what’s left of it.


In the opening images of the documentary, white letters emerge from the dirty walls of the Mont-de-Marsan prison in south-western France. A key turns in a lock, a gate closes, steps echo down the corridors. The audience slowly delves into French prison life: a closed world, without a horizon, where bodies have no freedom.


In a series of interviews, prisoners confide the most intimate details of their life in prison, including body searches, illnesses, and humiliation. Hugo, 56, who spent 29 years in prison for murder, provides the photo commentary, explaining how he was forced to undress in front of strangers. “Your body is thrown to the wolves,” he says.


Four former inmates, Hugo, Hélène, Hafed and Djemel, describe their prison conditions as black and white photos appear on the screen.


“The fight between the prison administration and inmates focuses on the body. The administration will be looking to impose its rhythm on inmates, making them dependent and childlike. Meanwhile, the inmate tries to repossess his own body through body-building, tattooing and all sorts of tactics to recreate his own identity,” explains Seelow.


The Web documentary, a world of new possibilities


The RFI/FRANCE 24 prize honours a new genre that includes interactive documentaries, video narratives or commented photos, a genre that has yet to be fully explored.


“We are seeing the dawn of a new type of writing for documentaries and we tried to reward those who really tried to imagine new forms of journalism on the Web,” said jury president Bollendorff.


The Le team was surprised by the jury’s choice because they had deliberately chosen a format that is quite simple.


“The Web documentary format is still a work in progess. It’s a world of great possibilities. Our position was to produce a documentary that was very modest, classic and very simple and not to pin all our hopes on the technical and visual possibilities offered by the media,” explains Seelow.


If the Web documentary has yet to find its own economic model, it has gained real professional recognition at the Perpignan festival.

Date created : 2009-09-03