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Prison Valley: a web documentary

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Our Answers to the residents of Fremont County (FAQ)


    First of all, we’d like to thank, warmly, all the people from Fremont County who took the time to contribute to our forums and leave their testimonies. For this was what we had in mind for Prison Valley: initiate a discussion.

    We naturally welcome all sorts of critics and feedback. Especially when they’re constructive and feed the debate.

    As says someone in this forum: I find even these comments very informative. The residents of Canon City, as angry to the document they might be, can still be pleased to the fact that they have to opportunity to express their opinion - directly into the document itself.

    Since we first began working on this project, making a dialog between authors, producers and viewers possible was at the heart of our efforts. In our opinion, this is the way we can let everybody speak out, even the harshest critics. And we wish people would see in this system - and in the time we take to answer everyone, a proof that we’re not hostile to anybody. Our only wish is to have people reflecting and discussing the prison system.

    Because Prison is not a trivial industry. It is a matter of points of view and perspectives. Just like the art of documentary is.

    An important point: a lot of your comments are already answered in the movie or the website. Prison Valley is foremost a webdocumentary. The more you progress in the movie, the more archives, texts and interviews you get in the web zone. You need to be logged to access those following links:

    And, last but not least, as one interviewee says in the forum, an union worker from the Supermax federal prison: Take the documentary for exactly what it is...... an outside, different culture, foreign country’s look at our Prison system, and the community that supports it. Take an outside look and you’ll realize that many other people and countrys DON’T have the same view of prisons that Fremont County does.

    Was it our intent to bash Fremont County?

    Let us first make something clear, because we think this might shed light on number of misunderstandings: as we hope we made it clear in the film, Prison Valley is not about judging any of its inhabitants, on the contrary. But it’s about trying to understand a system. This is what we (the voice over) explain here:

    To be honest, we put, in this documentary, a lot of the empathy we feel for the citizens of Cañon City and Florence, and the different people who accepted to be interviewed. They have, on both of our visits in June and September 2009 (and over the 5 weeks we spent shooting) shown how open-minded they were.

    Please understand us: the only thing we are trying to do with this documentary is to understand how a country we love, the United States of America, can incarcerate one out of a hundred of its citizens. You’ll find more about the reasons that motivate us here:

    Is the Fremont County responsible for the dramatic rise in the incarceration rate of the United-States?

    Absolutely not. Does someone say in the movie that Fremont County is the reason the USA incarcerates 1 out of 100 citizens? Absolutely no one. Nobody thinks that, and noboby says it.

    To us, as says the voice over, the question is how Fremont County could be almost a blueprint for what the future might look like. In other words, the question is not Fremont County but what it might foreshadow, or how it helps us have a better look at our present, in order to shape a better future. We have no doubt about the sincerity of its inhabitants, and we experienced first hand how most of the residents enjoyed living there and liked their community. But our focus is the prison system.

    We profoundly agree with what one of our viewer said in his comment, about how Cañon City was the executioner of decisions taken by others. This is the prime goal of our movie: that we all start reflecting together about why our communities have made the choice of imprisonment. And you’re absolutely right, this is not something local populations should feel responsible or guilty about. We never said that in the movie. Nobody ever did.

    According to a lot of residents we met there, building 13 prisons in one place have an economic purpose. This is the subject of our movie: with the huge part it took in our societies, how did prison became a major financial issue? Do we have to let this be or can we discuss it?

    About the title Prison Valley

    We didn’t make up the nickname of the town. The term Prison Valley was pointed out to us by one of the persons we met here. You will be able to hear her testimony in the film if you watch it until the end.

    We know that this nickname is not known in the city. But, what we note in one of the feedback post is this sentence: Someone you met in Fremont County, that is not from Fremont County, and that despises Fremont County gave you a name…. What does it mean exactly? Only people from Fremont County could talk about Fremont County? Only horses could talk about horse races? Come on, we don’t believe it. We believe in exchange, crossed views and discussions.

    And, as one interviewee, a union-worker from Federal prison, says in this forum : Prison Valley is not a name the residents came up with, it is a name the inmates began using because we have so many prisons in the area. When inmates talk to others they use it, and it begins to stick.....at least in their world.

    To get it over with the expression Prison Valley, it presents an interest that goes in the same way than some of the critics, and is the reason why we used it: it is a hyperbole. An image. It refers to a system. It’s a way of saying: what we’re talking about is more of an industry in general than a county in particular.

    About the distance between Cañon City and Florence (the two blocks in the English version)

    As you could see, geography is a key point to this program:


    What does the voice over say exactly? This: Riviera Motel in Fremont County, two blocks from Cañon City, not far from Florence, Colorado. So, we say exactly what you want: The Riviera is in Florence! What is the problem? We say two blocks to show that in the context of the United States or even the state of Colorado, the motel is only really a stone’s throw from Canon City.

    There is actually a small distinction between the French original version and its English translation. In the French version, we say that Florence is « two roads » away from Cañon City. In the English version we say « two blocks »

    As you know much better than us, to go from Cañon City to Florence, you can take… two roads : Highway 50 and Highway 67 or you can take the bucolic Highway 115. But let’s be honest, this 2-blocks thing is a small detail compared to the rest.

    Besides, Florence and Cañon City are two different towns. But they are the two most important towns of the same county: the Fremont County. It is actually the same administrative entity. We understand that for some of the residents, differences exist, but you have to admit that on the scale of the United-States or even Colorado, these differences are really tiny. Fremont County’s 13 prisons are as much in Florence as in Cañon City, as we can see:

    We find the way some of our viewers focus on that detail actually quite surprising. This might only demonstrate how everything is a matter of perspective. To us, who live far away, those 11 miles are nothing (by the way, some say 9, others 12). To others, in Cañon City, it seems to be the end of the world.

    But let’s go back to the text: we say that the Riviera motel is in Florence. And we clearly say that we loved this motel, which is perfectly maintained and managed and offered us a warm welcome.

    About the expression "clean version of hell.”

    This is the voice-over from the very beginning of the film: Ever since we read this sentence in the newspaper: “Cañon City is a clean version of hell.”

    The article we’re referring to is the one below and, as you know, we think it’s important to give sources for everything we write:
    It’s one of the few reports on Supermax and was shown on CBS’s ‘60 Minutes’.

    We talk about all this strory is this forum: http://prisonvalley.arte.tv/en/forums/discussion/4/background-information-for-the-supermax-discussion/

    When we use the expression, the aim isn’t at all to point a finger at Cañon City and Fremont County, but instead to describe what the concentration of prisons in the town symbolises. It’s a question of interpretation, or – as you put it – cultural differences. When we use the word ‘hell’ later on in the film, http://prisonvalley.arte.tv/en/#/chapter-2/super8-motel/, we say:
    Back then, the locals clubbed together to buy land. And offer them to the Federal Bureau of Prisons in Washington. The whole town was rooting for this Federal jail. Desert and hell. Clean.

    As you can see, we are clearly talking about Supermax and the whole federal complex where you work. In truth, what we found interesting about the expression wasn’t the word ‘hell’ on its own; it was the juxtaposition of the words ‘clean’ and ‘hell’. It was the idea of a purified, sanitized world where more and more people are locked up.

    About the shooting of alley ways

    As foreign people, walking in the unseemly alley ways of Canon City was something else. To be honest, each time we come to America, they also belong to the kind of place we like to pay a visit to. We sit in the sun (or the rain !) and just look around. For us they’re just typical american alley way. They’re particularly sinister. They bring back memories of American literature or films we enjoyed. We have visited your parks as well. And they’re beautiful - for sure. We spent a lot of time there too, observing, watching the squirrels play, listening to the birds. Taking in the atmosphere. But yes, as would any authors, David and I decided to choose some moments rather than others according to our story.

    It’s every author’s prerogative and part of its work. It comes with a price: accepting the point of view and the critics of others.

    Why showing as much rain and clouds?

    This may be the most hypocritical comment. You have to believe us: we didn’t have a Hollywood budget, and not closely enough money to hose Fremont County or bribe the weather gods.

    As a photographer and filmmaker, we always need to go and feel things for ourselves in order to give an interpretation with a photographic bias. We had to find our own and original way to access the subject. We didn’t miss the beautiful landscape. However we didn’t spend 5 weeks between Canon City and Florence to do sightseeing or touristic stuff. When we were in Canon City, on September, the weather would change overnight. We worked all the time. On rainy days as well as sunny days. And we just went along with the weather.

    Moreover, you can see on this documentary a lot of sunny weather travelling showing the nice scenery around the town. And believe it or not, we even came back to France with the beginning of a tan.

    Finally, about the climate, we are very well aware of Cañon City’s catch phrase: Colorado’s climate capital. We even quote it here:

    Why not talking about the touristic aspects of Fremont County (Rafting, Royal Gorge, etc)?

    We couldn’t agree more: our film is not a sightseeing brochure. That’s not what we wanted to talk about. Never have we pretended it was and those who feel hurt by our work have short memory: we always intended to talk about the prison system, which is the first local industry. We’ve even included it in the title of the documentary: Prison Valley – the prison industry. Nevertheless, and contrary to what some people suggest, you’ll find many touristic information here, even some about the Royal George:

    Regarding the Buckskin Joe Frontier Town and Railway, you’ll see we went even further than what you were wishing for: we have made an ensemble of movies, bonuses, archives around the industry of cinema in Cañon City. You’ll find we put a lot of heart and efforts in telling this not so well known part of the history of your town:

    Regarding the great Historic Cañon City downtown, we totally agree with you. And we tried to show this in the movie, for instance here:

    Finally, the movie opens (and comes back) on one of the most beautiful place of Cañon City: the famous scenic drive, as the City sign says: Skyline Drive.

    About security in the city

    Some blame us for giving a violent image of Cañon City. Our text says exactly the opposite:Every resident was like Dori – eager to reassure us. Canon City was a safe town. We didn’t doubt that for a second. It was precisely their lack of concern that intrigued us.

    About prisoners labour

    Regarding inmate labor, you can find some elements you’re asking for here:

    About heritage

    We share the opinion of one of our viewers: The sins of past people shouldn’t transfer, the son of a prisoner isn’t a bad person, just like the ancestors of wardens of the time don’t deserve to be demonized because the buildings are still standing. But it’s nevertheless interesting to point out that historically, your city has grown and flourished over the years. We feel that pretending it has no significance or meaning would be like burying our heads in the sand.

    About wardens and correction officers

    We’re not interested in Manichaeism. We widely talk about their suffering:

    About situation in French prisons

    please read this and you’ll see how it is awful: http://prisonvalley.arte.tv/en/forums/discussion/42/the-state-of-frances-prisons/

    About private prisons

    This is a major issue. And as some admit I think that private prisons are a bad idea, you should know that we would be more than happy if you would continue the debate here:

    The question of private prisons is and remains a major issue today.

    You can also take a look at our bonuses on this question:

    About the differences between prisons (private, public, etc)

    We know there are disparities between the wages paid to employees, and in the ways inmates are treated, etc. We discuss these issues either in the main film or in the bonuses (on the bed in the motel). But what’s at stake in our documentary isn’t that: again, what we wanted to understand is how there’s a system at work in your country that turns prisons into a complete organization, an industry. And as a matter of fact, we repeat on several occasions during the movie that our subject is none other than this: how prisons got to play an ever larger part in our societies, up to the point they became a major financial issue. Do we just have to let this happen or can we at least discuss it?

    About restaurants

    For sure, we ate at Le Petit Chablis, in Downtown Cañon City, and enjoyed it. Please consider this sequence about the pizza only for what it is: a typically French point of view, a wink, that’s all.

    It’s amusing to notice how it is only this sequence about the pizza that is often pointed out in comments (even if some acknowledge Yes the restaurants on average are kinda crappy). But nobody seemed to notice this other part, 20 minutes later, where we say We wolfed down one of Christian’s famous sandwiches and hit the road. So, please, don’t demonize or oversimplify. And don’t do what you accuse us of doing.

    About the orange sequence.

    Some viewers find it just absurd. But it was a a happy moment. A moment of celebration, of joy. Exactly what some of you asked for: we tried to show the complexity of the situation. For some, this extract is absurd. For others, it’s poetic. For us, it’s a piece of information.
    About the colors of prison uniforms, you’re right. Orange isn’t the predominant color, just as the voice over tells it here:

    About guns showed in the movie

    Does someone say in the movie that guards were strapped to the nines on the job? No one. That’s absolutely not the image we wanted to give. We don’t judge. Listen again to what the voice over says: We didn’t immediately notice that, under his jacket [the gun]. We didn’t care, we just listened.

    Thanks again for your statements, comments and critic. As you can see it’s all a matter of interpretation and point of view.

    One last detail: insulting comments or multiple posts on different chatrooms are being deleted automatically.

    All the Prison Valley Team.

    Posted by David Dufresne Prison Valley Team
    May 14th 2010 (edited May 25th 2010)
    To report corrections and clarifications, contact Prison Valley Team

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