Prisoner and Jailer tells the story of two contrasting Libyans: a key official in the former regime and one of the most prominent figures of the post-revolutionary period in Libya.
Through these two characters, we discover the circumstances surrounding one of the most influential events in modern Libyan history: The Abu Salim Prison Massacre.
Interview with Writer/Director/Producer/Editor Muhannad Lamin
Congratulations! Why did you make your film?
I wanted to capture and explain the transformation of a victim to an oppressor as a result of power, and visa versa, a paradoxical situation that Libya has been facing after the revolution.
It all started when I read an older article about a person who was a powerful militia leader but in the article, he was portrayed as a victim of Qaddafi’s regime.
In fact, a number of former political prisoners are currently controlling the prison in which Qaddafi regime leaders are kept in.
I started thinking and researching more this switching of their roles and the meanings of words like victim and oppressor in the context of a continued conflict affecting the lives of ordinary Libyans.
Imagine I’m a member of the audience. Why should I watch this film?
The film will take you inside a notorious Libyan prison of Abu Salim, and make question some of your convictions, especially of who is, in fact, the victim in the story.
The film is set in Libya but it is relevant to understanding the effect of power on human behaviour and difficulties of reconciliation anywhere.
How do personal and universal themes work in your film?
On a universal level, it is themes of power and vengeance which affect the behaviour of the two main characters. Their story and interaction is also a personal attempt to find orientation in what became a confusion between victims of the former regime and key players in the current conflict in Libya.
Before the revolution, it was dangerous to talk about political prisoners, and so I learnt only bits and pieces about the events of Abu Salim prison, even though I think it had an important effect on the country’s political situation after the revolution.
It is a kind of personal debt that I am paying with showing this story to the public.
How have the script and film evolved over the course of their development?
When I became certain about making a film about two characters transitioning from victim to perpetrator and vice versa, I started researching everything about Abu Salim prison in Libya, the conditions of the prison in 1996, the prisoners’ stories, and the conditions of the current prisoners from Qaddafi’s regime.
I consulted materials and documentation by human rights organisations. I also found a series of interviews of prisoners talking about their experience and a couple of released videos from inside Abu Salim prison featuring senior regime officials.
I began to write the script and dialogue, imagining the scenes as I was researching. Even though it is fiction, it has a lot of elements from real life.
After the main research, I decided to focus on certain key moments in each character’s story and explore how they interact in different moments of the story.
What type of feedback have you received so far?
So far the film was shown to a mostly local audience and few internationals, and the response so far is very interesting, especially among young Libyan audience where the film sparks a discussion between different takes on the film and opinions about the morals of each character.
The importance of talking about such a topic at this moment in Libya and internationally was also raised.
Has the feedback surprised or challenged your point of view?
Deciding to work on a film that talks about such subject one have to know that it will generate discussion and this specific topic in Libya is still fresh, and I think in the future screening and opportunities with the audience I will learn more about the reaction to the film.
What are you looking to achieve by having your film more visible on www.wearemovingstories.com ?
I’m looking to get my short film out in the world and see what reactions it will have with the audience, and also to see what other channels and tools I can find to publish and screen the film.
Who do you need to come on board (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists) to amplify this film’s message?
The film is in the early stages of distribution and we’re aiming to connect with film festivals sales agents and producers for future projects.
What type of impact and/or reception would you like this film to have?
I’m interested in the discussion the film generates with regards to conflict and power, as well as transitional justice and the current situation in Libya. I think the event of Abu Salim prison is one of the most important in the modern history of Libya that could help the international audience understand Libya better.
What’s a key question that will help spark a debate or begin a conversation about this film?
I think the film asks different questions but for me, one of the important questions to ask is whether true reconciliation can be possible without transitional justice?
What other projects are the key creatives developing or working on now?
At the moment I’m working on different projects including a feature film , developing a web-series with fellow Libyan filmmakers which I will produce, and organizing a long term practical training for Libyan technicians focused on cinematic fiction production, in addition to running our Production company (Khayal Productions) that works in filmmaking for all platforms in North Africa.
About the film
Director: Muhannad Lamin
Producer: Muhannad Lamin, Yasmine Dhoukar
Writer: Muhannad Lamin
About the writer, director and producer: Muhannad Lamin studied directing and scriptwriting at Tripoli’s Arts Institute while working as a creative director at 2Go2 Media and an editor at Huna Production. He produced campaign projects for the Electoral High Authority, the Ministry of Justice, the Warriors’ Affairs Commission, IOM, ACTED and Fredrich Ebert Stiftung.
In addition to his involvement in several documentary projects like Poet of the Sea (2012) and Between the Ropes (2013) and Freedom Fields (2018), Muhannad has directed four short films and currently developing feature films and producing other projects.
Key cast: Ali Elshol (Sheikh), Eisa Abdolhafeez (Haj)