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How did you start working with the minors in the youth prison? What was your objective?


The idea for a film project in the juvenile detention center was mainly due to the experiences of a supervised theatre project in the same prison in 2013. I observed the great curiosity of the young people to express themselves creatively, each in a personal way, some impulsively and radically others very conscious and quiet, yet all with the same sincerity and determination.

My objective was to create a portrait of the place which had inspired me so much out of un unusual perspective - with the eyes of the young detainees themselves.


Where did the idea come from to let the minors film themselves instead of using a camera-man to do the job?


This project attempts a documentary approach from the point of view of the boys. No outsider can capture, describe or portray what moves them, what they see and how they perceive their environment, except themselves!

With this approach I wanted to find a sensible and close way to capture everyday-life in the prison and practice an alternative concept aside from the usual procedure of filmmaking where the filmmaker with his camera, entering a new surrounding will in many means stay always a foreigner.

Why not let somebody being part of that environment tell the story?


What exactly did the workshop include? How did your everyday schedule look like?


First of all there were two parts of the workshop. The first half was held in 2017. It was a kick-off workshop with a basic introduction to camera-handling, composition and framing as well as a short journey into film history.

The second half took place one year after and was a post-production workshop only. The minors learned how to use an editing program and about the different steps in p-p-process.

Both workshops had a duration of each two months and were designed in the same way. The first two weeks of 

theoretical learning in class, after that the young detainees took over the organisation and were free to work on their own or in groups. This way they had the opportunity to practice managing themselves and to develop their film in the direction they wanted to. At the same time this method gave the freedom for each individual to find his/her own way of expression with the camera and later on in the assembling-process inside the editing program.


What was the most important development of the minors over the time of the project?


What was visible over the course of the project was the obtained ability to wait, to listen closely and to observe thoroughly the action behind the camera. This way the boys learned to see familiar things and their fix surrounding consisting of the never changing yard and the two cells through different eyes.

Another qualification I thought was stunning, was the experimental kind of way the young prisoners dealt with the camera. Far from the usual rules of filmmaking they developed their own techniques to capture whatever was meaningful to them and whatever they wanted to express for very individual reasons.


What have you seen and experienced during the time in the prison?


What I have seen and experienced in the youth prison Antanimora are bad living conditions, malnutrition and lack of hygienic facilities and educational programs on the one hand but a an inspiring atmosphere, strong-bonded community full of spirit and a big amount of solidarity on the other hand.

I was amazed by the motivation and positivity the boys were spreading everyday. And still I could see that they were part of a strong and hierarchical system in which some have to obey and some are in the position to rule. A system - a small microcosm or society in miniature format in which everybody has a clear role and function to serve or lead the group. 

An experience that I was not prepared to and that almost made me stop the project was the encounter with the different stories and backgrounds of the boys. Although I never directly asked them what has brought them into the prison, I eventually found out over time. I got confronted with crimes that exceeded the kind of minor offences like pickpocketing in all matters. I felt a strong aversion to continue working and supporting people who have harmed others with brutal manner. Finally I could overcome my misgivings and decided to treat everybody equally regardless of their history. With the film-project I wanted to provide them a platform on which they can unfold and develop themselves freely and for once - not get judged.


How was your feeling being the only women in-between 120 male detainees?


During the first weeks the boys tried to propose to me about a hundred times. It is very special for them to not only see but be around a girl for a long time after they haven’t seen any since they got arrested. Even more unusual it is for them to see a white person, in malagasy language called « vazaha », which usually get admired and looked up to in society because they reflect all the dreams from the « outside world » that is oftentimes so unreachable for them.

Over time the boys and I got used to each other and I became an accepted member of their group. I remember a circumstance where my pocket got stolen on the streets and I told them about what had happened. In total solidarity they assured me that they would tell their friends, the gang on the streets who were most possibly responsible for the disappearance of my bag, to immediately give it back since I now belonged to their group where all members enjoy protection among each other.

Although they couldn’t manage to get my bag back in the end, I was very touched that they considered me a full part of malagasy society.


What are the reasons for the imprisonment of the minors in Antanimora?


Minor offences driven by poverty are the most common reasons for arrest among young people. According to the detainees, some arrests were preceded by no criminal offences and relied only on allegations. 80% of young people are in so-called protective custody and usually wait several years or in vain for a legal action. Approximately 70% of the youth are orphans and grew up on the streets of the capital Antananarivo.

How do everyday living conditions look like?


The boys in Antanimora are in a special condition. The limited contact with the „outside world“, with friends and family, the catastrophic living conditions of accommodation and the unfairness of their seemingly inevitable destinies, create extraordinary and tragic living conditions. It is about coping with everyday life, dealing with other prisoners, observing and setting up internal rules, developing habits and solving problems. It is about adaptation and quiet stamina, but also about cohesion and solidarity.

The daily program in prison is limited to two meals (consisting of rice or cassava) and a church-initiated, irregular morning education program. A small gathering room can be used for courses. The yard is the main and inevitable place to stay for the boys. At 6 o‘clock in the evening, the 120 inmates are distributed in two sleeping bays and locked up at 6 o‘clock until the morning call.


What is your vision for this project?


My vision for this project is to carry out this personal and unique film with and from the minors of the youth prison Antanimora. It is not only an important portrait which is highly relevant for human rights discussion but also a symbol for the great talent and individual creativity among all of us even at a place being despised of the society such as a prison. My goal is  to push those unusual young filmmakers and to make their effort a success.

My long-term vision is to set up a proper film school in Madagascar which can provide people from financially and socially problematic backgrounds a space of reflection and creation, as well as the opportunity to develop themselves artistically through a professional educational program.

Editing Fonja Documentary Prison
Still of Fonja Documentary Prison
Fonja Documentary Prison
Fonja Documentary Prison
Fonja Documentary Prison
Fonja Documentary Prison
Fonja Documentary Prison
Filming in the yard, Fonja Documentary Prison
Filmworkshop Fonja Documentary Prison
Fonja Documentary Prison
Fonja Documentary Prison
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