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VASA film screening ... February – March 2018

Death Row

Film by Bruce Jackson and Diane Christian

Death Row" is a documentary filmed in 1979 by Bruce Jackson and Diane Christian illustrating life on cell block J in Ellis Unit of the Texas Department of Corrections. The film is available in the new book "In This Timeless Time," with photos from the experience and words that further reveals the world of Death Row prisoners and offers an unflinching commentary on the judicial system and the fates of the men they met on the Row.

* VASA thanks Diane and Bruce for permission to stream and archive Death Row.

Still image from Death Row (length: 60 min)
© Bruce Jackson and Diane Christian
Videos may go full screen.

"Death Row is a film about daily life on Death Row in Texas. When the film was made in March 1979, 114 men were housed in the special death cells of Ellis prison's rows J-21 and J-23. The men spend their time waiting for the State to kill them or fighting as hard as they can to prevent that death from happening. Their hardest job is staying sane. There is less to do on Death Row than any other kind of prison. Except for four hours a week, the men are constantly locked in small one-man cells. Few outsiders visit the Row, and those who do never stay very long. The Row is the least known of all our prisons.

The film is about how men get by on the Row, how they fill the years between fixing of a death sentence by a judge and ultimate resolution in freedom, commutation or death by lethal injection. Some of the condemned men discuss their relationships with their families and attorneys; they describe how they keep from going crazy; they talk about the waiting. The film depicts the few physical actions that barely break the monotony of life on the Row: food service with trays slid under cell doors, haircuts, domino games in the small day room, chess games on boards suspended between two cells by strips of cloth, manufacture of picture frames from cigarette pack and tobacco wrappers, reading lawbooks, watching television... Other comments on the Row are offered by a medical office, a guard, and a convict porter."
(Text from: –21 February 2018)


Bruce Jackson (born May 21, 1936) is an American folklorist, documentary filmmaker, writer, photographer. He is SUNY Distinguished Professor and the James Agee Professor of American Culture at the University at Buffalo. Jackson has edited or authored books published by major university presses.[1] He has also directed and produced five documentary films. (Wikipedia, 21 February 2018)

Diane Christian is SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor at University at Buffalo and an author and filmmaker. She is the author of a book of poems, Wide-Ons, and co-author of Death Row (Beacon 1980) and In This Timeless Time: Living and Dying on Death Row in America (UNC Press & Duke Documentary Series, 2014). A collection of her essays on ethics, murder and war, Blood Sacrifice, was published in 2004 by Center Working Papers. With her colleague and husband, Bruce Jackson, she produced and directed documentary films on men waiting to be executed in Texas (Death Row), ex-nuns (Out of Order) and poet Robert Creeley (Creeley).

Related sites:

Washington Post
WNYC Interview
University of North Carolina Interview
Interview with Bruce Jackson

The VASA film/video series is designed to prsent the work of emerging and established film/video artist.
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