The film, FF Gaiden: Control, is a culmination of six month’s work by ex-servicemen currently in HMP Althouse and Liverpool, in collaboration with artists Larry Achiampong and David Blandy. The project, commissioned by FACT as part of the Veterans in Practice (VIP) programme, sought to include a part of the ex-Forces community that it had previously neglected; those who are in prison. Emily Gee, FACT's Communities Manager, explained that new data released in 2014 recognised the number of veterans in prisons for the first time, meaning that they are potentially the only prisoners who are identified by their previous employment. And so arose the question - how does this impact on their sense of identity?
Starting underwater, the film follow a variety of avatars, often running or climbing, through the Grand Theft Auto (GTA) 5 landscape - first wilderness, then the city, and back to wilderness again. Each avatar has its own voiceover - we hear from veterans in prison and their families, reflecting on freedom, truth, mental health, relationships, violence, and the authenticity of identity. The film provides an opportunity for the veterans to speak for themselves and give their own point of view; one voiceover reflects on how the accumulation of smaller problems leads to greater problems later in life - for example, growing up in an abusive household, going into the army as a young man, and only dealing with the legacy of abuse once out of the military and a grown man.
The most visually striking aspect of the film is that it is made using GTA5. This was partly a practical choice by the artists; they were limited with what they could take into the prison, and GTA5 happens to contain an editable, "director" mode. The videogame aesthetic is also recognisable and accessible for the participants. David noted that the game provides an interesting space in which to think about legacies of violence, while also providing an alternate reality in which to explore the idea of control; Larry pointed out that ideas regarding violence, oppression and decolonisation in GTA5 matched itself more interestingly to the project than, for example, Skyrim.
The resulting film was shown at FACT a few weeks ago, and the event attracted a variety of people with a personal interest in the subject matter, which made for an informed and insightful discussion in the Q&A session following the screening.
Much of the conversation focused on the state of limbo in which ex-veterans often find themselves once also branded a (ex-)prisoner, and the ways in which society often fails individuals who find themselves in this position. The film served its purpose of providing a vehicle for discussing and exploring the dual identity - and subsequent identity crisis - of ex-servicemen who are also prisoners; hopefully this is a discussion that will continue beyond this singular event.
FF Gaiden: Control was commissioned and produced by FACT. Supported by Paul Hamlyn Foundation. With thanks HMP Altcourse, Keith McDonnell, Tony Connolly and the HMP Altcourse gym team, HMP Liverpool and Partners of Prisoners. Read more about FACT's Veterans in Practice programme.