San Quentin recently hosted a film crew capturing footage of art and artist behind the legendary walls.
The film crew came to San Quentin to make a documentary about Alfredo Santos, the artist who created the South Dining Hall murals.
The crew’s director, Paul Sutton, made the first documentary about prisons in 1980 titled Doing Time.
Doing Time earned three Emmy awards, and its sequel Doing Time Ten Years Later was the recipient of two Emmy awards.
Sutton also made the film Prison Through Tomorrow’s Eyes.
Making movies has become a family affair for Sutton. On this shoot his wife and cameraperson Lori Sutton, daughter Roberta Sutton, and son-in-law Christian Kelly joined him.
Although this film started out to be about the life and work of Santos, the idea has evolved. “Film making is an organic process, and every time we talk to someone new the more the original idea changes,” says Sutton.
The original name for this film was Broken Mold – The Life and Art of Alfredo Santos. The title reflected the life story of Santos. Sutton says many people tried to break Santos throughout his life by taking advantage of him, but they only managed to break the mold and not the man. Each time Santos faced a hardship in his life he emerged a stronger person.
Sutton says these hardships reflect in his art.
Sutton says he is not really a filmmaker. He recently retired as a professor of criminal justice at the University of California at San Diego.
“My motivation was to show the reality of prison,” Sutton said about making prison documentaries.
Before becoming a professor, Sutton was a data cruncher doing research on prisons. This led to his first documentary Doing Time.
Right after Doing Time was released the Penitentiary of New Mexico exploded with the bloodiest prison riot in recorded history.
Sutton has answered this question with what he sees as a more valid question, “Why don’t more prisons explode?”
This question has sent him all over searching for answers.
He has spent the last 24 years leading a tour for his students at UCSD up and down the state’s prison system.
Every year he visits San Quentin on this tour. “The most interesting thing about San Quentin is the relationship between custody and the fellas,” Sutton says. “I’ve never seen the warmth I’ve seen at San Quentin between these two sides anywhere else.”
Sutton says in his time in this business he has come to know the reality of prisons that most of the public never gets to see.
“The public sees shows like Lock Up and think that is real,” Sutton says.
Sutton recognizes blood is what usually sells, but that is not the reality of prison.