Crime and punishment

Tom Lappin talks to influential filmmaker Roger Graef about his latest work, a behind-the-scenes look at prison warders in Wandsworth Prison. Turning The


Back in 1983. director and writer Roger Graef gave us the documentary series Police. A disturbing and enlightening behind-the-scenes portrayal of police procedures and attitudes. it led directly to a change in the law concerning the interrogation of rape victims.

Ten years on. Graef‘s Turning The Screws seems unlikely to result in legislation but will undoubtedly provide a valuable contribution to the ongoing debate about the way our prisons are run. ‘People know something. not very much. about prisons from fiction.’ he says, ‘and there have been a few programmes about prisoners and their lives. but no one's ever paid any attention to the officers. We thought that would be an important thing to do. to see how running prisons works, what actually happens behind the scenes.‘

Graef filmed on and off for a year in Wandwonh Prison, an establishment with such a poor reputation that it was singled out by a Council Of Europe Committee On Torture because of its squalid conditions. ‘1 was invited to come by the governor. He said “it's changing. come and see it." I thought if they can change Wandsworth they can change anything. And it is changing but what that means is it‘s coming around to doing things which are absolutely normal in other prisons. And what‘s interesting is that they‘d still argue that the discipline. the simplicity and bleakness of their regime have their merits because they are in such tight control.‘

It's not an argument Graef would go along with. His own view. omitted from the film. but forcefully put in his book Living Dangerously, is that for all but dangerous offenders. prison is a futile form of punishment. ‘1 think the whole idea of prison is a

complete waste of time. I believe very strongly that the things that make people commit crimes are not addressed in any way by the prison system. I‘d like them to stop committing crime but I‘ve no evidence that prison stops them doing anything at all. Except for about 5000 out of the 50. 000 prisoners. the whole thing is a mistake.‘

Not that this affects the making of Turning The. Screws. Like Graef’s previous work. the film avoids an authorial voice. concentrating on recording what

happens. ‘The point of this film isjust to say “look if

you want prisons. this is what it's like. Is this really the way we want to spend our money?" it’s absolutely crucial that I don‘t have an axe to grind. I say this is what we saw. this is an accurate picture of what happened during this time. Then we can have a debate about it. That's the point.‘

Graef tries to give both a wider perspective on the dispute between the warders and the prison management and a more human picture of life inside the prison. ‘My philosophy is that institutions are actually run by human beings. and it‘s very important to realise that. because any system that doesn't take that into account is flawed.’

On occasion. though. the human element proved more than a little unpredictable. ‘Everybody had to

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‘1‘. .~_ " s r..- ,v§~--.‘v Warders in the control centre at Wandsworth. agree to be filmed.‘ Graef explains. ‘In the prisoners' case it was up to them whether they wanted to be on film. Some wanted us there because they wanted us to show how awful conditions were, but the attitudes varied rather dramatically. One time we were filming slopping out. everybody said hello to us. we were doing quite well and then one guy said “Get away. I'll break your fucking neck if you don‘t stop filming us" and the prison officer had to stop him attacking us. Then suddenly the whole wing went up and shouting and screaming. We realised we were about to start a riot so we moved off. We had a bucket splashed on us from above and dreaded what was in it. We discovered it was only water but we were very lucky not to start a riot or at least get covered in shit.‘ It‘s an impression that has remained with Graef and if nothing else. Turning The Screws will leave a disturbing image ofjust what it means to be incarcerated. ‘lt's difficult to imagine the real horrors.‘ says Graef. ‘like slopping out. Sounds like rather a harmless phrase doesn't it‘.’ But the thought of living with those buckets every night. and somebody else's shit as well. it‘s unbearable. . .‘

Turning The Screws begins on (‘hannel 4 (m Thursday I 8 Februarv at 9pm.

Out on air

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While the rest at the world sulks its way through the annual humiliation of St Valentine’s Day, Radio 4 will be quietly carving out the hours between ' 8 and 10pm to make broadcasting

a history. A Sunday Outing is the tlrst

national radio programme made by a lesbian and gay production company - Outcast. It it is a success, it could be a taste of things to come.

7 Contrary to its tea-time image, Radio 1 4 has never shied away from controversy. enthusiastic all the way’, says Editor Rigel Wrench, who describes the show . as a ‘two-hour celebration which is

,. '1 /' also an examination of serious issues’. Team From london, Matthew Parris, Times

‘They’ve been dead

columnist and ex-Tory MP, and feminist writer Bea Campbell present the features and discussions. Adam Mars-Jones and Sir Ian McKellen ask it there really is a ‘gay community’. A director of Casualty discusses the dearth of gay characters in soap operas. There are slots on

. relationships, gay holidays, religion and the ’plnk economy’. From New York, Gore Vidal otters a gay perspective on the Clinton administration. Edmund White and Mary Wings read especially . commissioned stories. The hoopla comes courtesy of a link-up with cabaret star Maria Esposito in Blackpool, where Simon Fanshawe

hosts the first gay and lesbian quiz.

‘Anybody expecting to hear Gardeners’ Question Time is in for a shock,’ says Wrench. ‘We’re a very cheeky programme, a no-holds-barred Ptoflramme- Throughout mainstream broadcasting, TV and radio, the time has come for more gay and lesbian programming and I think our commission from Radio 4 is the first acknowledgement ot that. We relish the opportunity of having two hours of live, uncensored radio all to ourselves. But it this is all there is, then it isn’t enough.’ (Miranda France)

A Sunday Outing is broadcast at 8pm on Sun 14 Feb, on Radio 4.

so The List i2;25 February 1993’