By Michael MADSEN


Documentary - Completed 2014

    • Year of production
    • 2014
    • Genres
    • Documentary
    • Countries
    • Duration
    • 27 mn
    • Director(s)
    • Michael MADSEN
    • Producer(s)
    • Anne KÖHNCKE (Final Cut for Real), Signe BYRGE SØRENSEN (Final Cut for Real)
    • Synopsis
    • You can judge a society by the way it treats its prisoners, Dostoevsky once said.

      Can a building make you into a better person? Halden Prison in Norway, designed by the Danish architect group EMA, has been crowned "The World's most humane prison", and is temporary domicile for some of the most dangerous convicts in Norway. The philosophy behind it is that design and architecture can contribute toward making hard-core criminals better citizens. How does it affect the inmates that there are no bars in front of the windows? Or that there are sprawling panoramic views of the Norwegian nature, and that the buildings are covered with art? Is it only aesthetics, or does it genuinely affect the people who have to live there? Can a prison ever truly be "humane"?

      The film takes the audience on a thought-provoking and playful journey into a space that gives rise to many existential questions concerning how we see our selves and others, and how the physical frames we live, work and play in, form us and our culture, and vice versa.

      The perspective is reversed, leaving the building as the main character. The film is part of a 3D film project of 6 films by 6 internationally acclaimed directors, each choosing a building and asking "If buildings could talk what would they say about us?" Wim Wenders is executive producer of the project, and director of one of the films. (Final Cut for Real co-produced the other 5 films, see under co-productions)

      Michael Madsen about his film:
      "It has been said about ancient Rome and its barbarous taste for gladiators fighting to the death that a society can be defined by how it entertains itself. Another fault line in society is how it deals with those who break the law.

      Architecture is psychology of space. Nowhere is this more prominent than in the social engineering of prisons - that is, the question of whether citizens are removed for the satisfaction of the surrounding society - as revenge - or for re-socialisation.

      A prison represents the underside of society. It is a state-sponsored fortress meant to contain that which is judged unacceptable. A prison is where tolerance ends and society struggles for survival by simply taking away individuals whose actions - sometimes only hypothetically - threaten the security of people, their moral values, or even the state itself.

      The French philosopher Michel Foucault, in his seminal work Discipline and Punish, shows that the objective of citizen rehabilitation is a reflection of the ideals of any society. The architecture of a prison is an expression of the self-understanding of, in this case, the Scandinavian welfare state. A prison, in other words, is a vessel for preserving - or even creating - a certain type of humans, a certain type of culture.

      A prime present-day example is Halden Prison, built in 2010. My choice of Halden Prison gives me the opportunity to ask how a society chooses to represent itself and how this becomes manifest in the public buildings it creates."