Painted with My Hair

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Arts Documentary hosted by Mike Dibb, published by BBC broadcasted as part of BBC Arena series in 2021 - English narration

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Image: Painted-with-My-Hair-Cover.jpg

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Painted with My Hair is inspired by the paintings, poetry and letters of Donny Johnson, an exceptionally intelligent and talented US lifer, who has been locked away inside his country's notoriously punitive prison system since the age of 18. At 58, Donny was released from solitary and had his first parole board hearing in April 2018. But for 24 years of his prison life, he was 'buried alive' in an 11-by-seven-foot concrete cell inside the Super Max Security Housing Unit of Pelican Bay State Prison, where creativity and the making of art were crucial to Donny's survival. Together with thousands of other long-time solitary confined prisoners, Donny was denied all physical contact with other human beings, and subjected to sensory and social deprivation. He was permitted to speak to visitors only via a phone through bullet-proof glass. Nevertheless, in 2002, against all the odds and through an initial 'prisoners pen-pal' contact and subsequent weekly correspondence with a New York writer and psychoanalyst, Stephen Kurtz, Donny began an intense and mutually transforming friendship. This relationship, expressed through over 500 letters, lies at the heart of this film. And while Donny revealed himself to be a fluent and incisive writer, even more remarkably, with encouragement from Steve, he became a dedicated artist – despite being refused access to conventional painting materials and forced to make brushes from his own hair, and to synthesise his pigments from the coloured sugar coatings of M&M's and Skittles. As Donny himself cannot be interviewed, his life and emotionally charged journey of self-discovery are presented in the film via quotations from his many letters, read by the award-winning American actor Stanley Tucci. Donny's 'voice' thus becomes the driving force of the documentary, articulating its main themes and topics, from his childhood to the present. Interwoven with Donny's own words are vivid and articulate contributions from people involved in his life, among them his mother Helen Grimes, his now close friend Steve Kurtz, and his San Francisco-based prisoners' rights lawyer Charles Carbone. A further emotional level is added through music, in the form of specially recorded jazz/rock improvisations for electric guitar and a few songs that have particular significance for Donny. Donny's life is an example of one man's resilience and personal transformation, achieved in defiance of a prison system that locks up more of its citizens – mostly the poor – than any other country. And this unusual and provocative film celebrates creativity and friendship as the essential routes to self-realisation for prisoners whose humanity is systematically denied. Whether 'indefinite confinement' continues to be Donny's fate was determined by a parole board hearing held in California's High Desert State Prison on 19 April 2018. Despite evidence of Donny's rehabilitation while in prison, his parole was not granted, with even a second hearing denied for a further five years. While the hearing could not be filmed, the tension leading up to the board's decision, and its momentous emotional repercussions for Donny, his family and everyone else in his life, constitute the moving last sequence of the film.

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[edit] Technical Specs

  • Video Codec: x265 CABAC Main@L4
  • Video Bitrate: CRF 21 (~2073Kbps)
  • Video Resolution: 1920x1080
  • Video Aspect Ratio: 16:9
  • Frame Rate: 25 FPS
  • Audio Codec: AAC-LC
  • Audio Bitrate: q91 VBR 48KHz (~128Kbps)
  • Audio Channels: 2
  • Run-Time: 74 mins
  • Number Of Parts: 1
  • Part Size: 1.15 GB
  • Source: HDTV
  • Encoded by: JungleBoy

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