Page last updated at 11:28 GMT, Saturday, 3 May 2008 12:28 UK

Film treat for Ivory Coast prison

By John James
BBC News, Abidjan

Inmates at Abidjan's only prison
Inmates who couldn't fit in the room watched from beyond caged walls

Inmates in Ivory Coast's main prison have been enjoying exclusive cinema screenings as part of the Abidjan International Festival of Short Film.

Festival organisers said they wanted to do something to reach out to people who did not have access to film.

In a room of cage walls a captive audience of mainly young men cheered, laughed and hooted as they watched five short films from across Africa.

Abidjan's only prison is the film festival's third venue.

Only invited guests were allowed to watch alongside the prisoners.

The wooden benches were packed - as is the prison itself - with three times as many prisoners as it was built for. One inmate said the films helped to widen their perspectives.

"It gives us the strength to behave ourselves when we're released. It makes me happy after all the years I've spent here - it will soon be seven years. When I see you here, it starts to strengthen my morale."

Inmates at Abidjan's only prison watching a screening
Organisers wanted to reach out to those who did not have access to film

As well as films about family life, refugees and celebrating Christmas, the prisoners got the chance to interview film makers, actors and the festival organisers.

The festival's founder, Hanny Tchelley, says criminals are humans before all else and deserve to get the chance to be inspired.

"You can be in prison but in your mind you are able to dream, to fly, to hope - they are humans and the prison is not the end of their lives - it's just a step."

Prisons are the setting for classic films such as the Shawshank Redemption and Escape from Alcatraz.

Such cinematic creations have echoes at the Abidjan prison, where over the past five years thousands have escaped - sometimes using ropes to scale the walls and at other times tunnelling their way out.

Country profile: Ivory Coast
16 Jan 08 |  Country profiles

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