The Mark of Cain (2000)

The Mark of Cain documents the fading art form and “language” of Russian criminal tattoos, formerly a forbidden topic in Russia. The now vanishing practice is seen as reflecting the transition of the broader Russian society. Filmed in some of Russia’s most notorious prisons, including the fabled White Swan, the interviews with prisoners, guards, and criminologists reveal the secret language of “The Zone” and “The Code of Thieves” (Vor v zakone).

The prisoners of the Stalinist Gulag, or "Zone," as it is called, developed a complex social structure (documented as early as the 1920s) that incorporated highly symbolic tattooing as a mark of rank. The existence of these inmates at prisons and forced labor camps was treated by the state as a deeply-kept secret. In the 1990s, Russia's prison population exploded, with overcrowding among the worst in the world. Some estimates suggest that in the last generation over thirty million of Russia's inmates have had tattoos even though the process is illegal inside Russian prisons.

The Mark of Cain examines every aspect of the tattooing, from the actual creation of the tattoo ink, interviews with the tattooers and soberly looks at the double-edged sword of prison tattoos. In many ways, they were needed to survive brutal Russian prisons, but mark the prisoner for life, which complicates any readmission to “normal” society they may have. Tattoos expressly identify what the convict has been convicted of, how many prisons he’s been in and what kind of criminal he is. Tattoos, essentially, tell you everything you need to know about that person without ever asking. Each tattoo represents a variety of things; cupolas on churches represent the number of convictions a convict has, epaulets tattooed on shoulders represent the rank of the individual in the crime world and so on and so forth.

The unflinching look at the Russian prison system is slowly woven into the film. Cells meant to hold 15 hold 35 to 45 men. Drug resistant tuberculosis runs rampant through the prison populations and prisoners are served three meals a day of watery slop. There are allegations of brutality by the guards. As these men deal with pestilence, violence and grossly substandard living conditions, the prison guards and administration put on a talent show.

The film served as source material for David Cronenberg’s 2007 dramatic movie, Eastern Promises. He commented, "This is a very courageous documentary on the tattooing subculture in Russian prisons. I don't know how it ever got made, but it's beautiful, scary, and heartbreaking."

www.youtube.com
on Sat, Feb 26 2011 · 6,325 Views
Load Comments
You Might Be Interested In
54 min · With extraordinary access, award-winning producer and director Dan Edge takes you to the epicenter of the raging debate about prison reform. "Solitary Nation" offers an up-close, graphic look at a solitary confinement unit in Maine's maximum-security prison with firsthand...
58 min · A filmmaker makes a journey into her own family's history to investigate the terrible truth behind her grandmother's odd tattoos and, in the process, unveils the story of the Armenian women driven out of Ottoman Turkey during the First World War.
3 min · I can think of no greater hell on earth than spending day after day in a little box. What about non-violent offenders? The drug addicts, the bad check writers, the people that are filling up our jails and costing us money? The number of prisoners in prisons for drugs equals...
24 min · This short film gives a poignant insight into the profound transformation of individuals - whom for whatever reason - have been drawn into lives of criminal activity, and have ended up imprisoned as a consequence. Breathe SMART is a powerful personal development program, with...
4 min · Caleb Behn is a young, Indigenous warrior fighting to save his people's land and culture. Deep in the exquisite wilderness of northeastern British Columbia, the ancestral home of Caleb's Dene people, the multi-billion-dollar oil and gas industry emits chemicals linked to...
27 min · Forgotten Bird of Paradise provides a rare and moving insight into the ongoing struggle for freedom being waged by the indigenous people of West Papua against Indonesian colonial rule.The documentary includes never before seen footage of West Papuan independence fighters at...
83 min · With extraordinary access, FRONTLINE takes you to the epicenter of the raging debate about prison reform. "Prison State" follows the lives of four individuals in Kentucky's criminal justice system, as the state tries to interrupt the cycle of mass incarceration.
2 min · Visions of Abolition is a documentary about the prison industrial complex and the prison abolition movement. - Part I, "Breaking down the Prison Industrial Complex" weaves together the voices of women caught in the criminal justice system and leading scholars of prison...
6 min · Engaging People is a web series of short documentaries about people who are engaged and actively making change in their communities. They serve as models of service, volunteerism and political action every day and in crisis situations, illustrating what it means to be an...
130 min · The Land of the Free punishes or imprisons more of its citizens than any other nation. This collection of testimonials from criminal offenders, family members, and experts on America’s criminal justice system puts a human face on the millions of Americans subjugated by...
3 min · A modern Indigenous warrior. A Goliath industry. A new way forward. -- Filmmakers Fiona Rayher and Damien Gillis document the journey of Caleb Behn to protect the health of his land and people from the ravages of Big Oil and Gas.   Deep in the exquisite wilderness of...
60 min · The only TV documentary to have advance access to the biggest WikiLeaks release ever. This is what really happened during the Iraq war, not what the US PR machine of the time wanted us to believe. The reality behind the civilian death count; al-Qaeda's fictitious presence...
Glenn Greenwald · Bradley Manning, the 22-year-old U.S. Army Private accused of leaking classified documents to WikiLeaks, has never been convicted of that crime, nor of any other crime.  Despite that, he has been detained at the U.S. Marine brig in Quantico, Virginia for five months -- and...
Arjun Sethi · The target of jokes and indifference, sexual assault has become part of the American prison experience The Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women, a maximum-security prison in Wetumpka, Ala., was built in 1942 to house 400 inmates. Today the facility houses more than 900 women...
Greg Hanscom · Agenda 21: It’s the biggest threat to your freedom, and unless you regularly attend yahoo-filled local planning and zoning meetings, you’ve probably never even heard of it. Until recently, this 20-year-old United Nations plan to promote “sustainable development” was known...
Molly Rowan Leach · In restorative justice, those who commit crimes have to face the consequences of their actions. After this Colorado policeman tried it out, he came to believe it's part of the answer to America's prison problem.   It's a warm summer night in Longmont, Colo., a vibrant...
Tim Hjersted · Every year Project Censored puts together a list of the top 25 stories censored and ignored by the mainstream media. The recently published Censored 2013 covers the period between 2011-2012. How many of these stories were you aware of? Even regular consumers of alternative...
Chris Hedges · Lynne Stewart, in the vindictive and hysterical world of the war on terror, is one of its martyrs. A 73-year-old lawyer who spent her life defending the poor, the marginalized and the despised, including blind cleric Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, she fell afoul of the state...
Tim Hjersted · Started in late 2008, The Zeitgeist Movement exists as the communication and "Activist Arm" of an organization called The Venus Project. The Venus Project was started many decades ago by Social/Industrial Designer Jacque Fresco and his life's work has been to address and...
James Herod · It is time to try to describe, at first abstractly and later concretely, a strategy for destroying capitalism. At its most basic, this strategy calls for pulling time, energy, and resources out of capitalist civilization and putting them into building a new civilization. The...
Like us on Facebook?