Rebibbia Lockdown

Four university students are commissioned by Luiss Guido Carli to follow inmates-students in prison. The coronavirus suddenly stops every meeting. Two foreign worlds are now united by the state of detention imposed by the contagion. A close correspondence starts. For months, the students and the prisoners reveal themselves to each other through letters, explaining their fears and hopes. Finally, they will meet in the place of knowledge: the Rebibbia university classroom. In search of a new humanism.

Clipper Media 

in collaboration with
Rai Cinema 

We kindly thank Libera Università Internazionale degli Studi Sociali Guido Carli for their collaboration 

Subject and Script
Fabio Cavalli 

Gianluca Rame 

Antonello Sarao 

Stefano Civitenga 

Original Soundtrack
Riccardo Cimino 

Executive Producer
Barbara Meleleo 

Sandro Bartolozzi 

Fabio Cavalli 

Length and Format
63’ 23’’ | colore | 16:9 

Press Office
Lucrezia Viti & Livia Delle Fratte
Tel. 348 2567827

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With the arrival of the pandemic, many things have happened in prison during the span of a few months that are worth trying to tell. Originally, before Covid-19, four students from Luiss were commissioned by Paola Severino to accompany Rebibbia inmates on their studies, towards a degree in Law. When everything is set for this new path towards discovering the functioning of crimes and punishments, the virus arrives and the world freezes. The prison is impenetrable, locked in fear that the contagion will spread and cause a disaster. Luiss’ Legality project with prisoners stops. Everyone ends up locked in for months, as if under house arrest: perhaps for the first time, there is a similarity between life as a free person and a life in prison. 

This story gets told in Rebibbia Lockdown by all the protagonists, using any means still possible: writing, drawing, imagination and the camera. While the world is changing, the connection between these kids and the prisoners profoundly changes each of the protagonists, in terms of human bonds. 

The end goal of this film is not to tell Rebibbia’s story at the time of the lockdown, but the means that the protagonists use to recount such a dramatic time in their lives. A very concrete question hovered over all of them for months: “If my life ended today, would it have made sense?”. In a correspondence that lasted months, made up of 100 letters between inmates, kids and prison officers, there appears this sentence by Giovanni, who still has 20 years to serve: “Dear Francesca, I never even imagined that life could come to an end. I have always dared, putting everything on the table and risking beyond measure. But today it’s different. The time has come to dig deep, in search of what has been authentic in my life, because tomorrow it may be too late to come to terms with myself”. These are the words of an inmate, but it is easy to imagine that they actually concern each of us.  

The intention of this film is to make the invisible visible. The narrative technique is pushed to the limit, between the reconstruction of dramatic facts of current affairs, condensed in a sentence or a look, and the reckoning of entire lives of crimes and misdeeds, recounted in an eye to eye confession with the viewer. Like when Martina, a recent graduate, asks Francesco (seventy years old with twenty years to serve in prison): “But do you feel guilty?”. The answer involves the soul and the mind. 

Each interpreter of this film, be it recluse or free, is the author of his own role.  

Then there is an even more dramatic aspect of the film: several riots started in prisons at the outbreak of Covid19. Thousands desperately tried to escape, all over the world. During those days Peppe, who is serving a life sentence, witnesses in isolation the riots in the courtyards from the bars of his cell, and thus comments in a letter: “Dear Giacomo, I’ll try to make you understand the dismay and anger here. You know the convicts chained to the oars of the Roman galleys? When they saw the glow of a fire on board, they prayed to God that the ship would sink before burning: the water gives a better death than the fire”. An agent of the penitentiary police writes: “Dear Angelica, you asked me for news from here. Your prison students are calm in their section. The problem is that everyone here, us and them, are afraid of ending up trapped here”. 

In the days of riots the camera could not enter the prison. The shots of the video surveillance cameras of S. Maria Capua Vetere later revealed a reality that resembles the images from The Battle of Algiers by Gillo Pontecorvo. But that’s still not the whole truth. How to represent the escape attempts, the fear, the violence, the secret life of those men who are perched inside the fortress as in the Desert of the Tartars? Overcoming the last limit of cinematic syntax, a great illustrator transforms the tales and delirious visions of a young lifer artist into animations. 

Director’s Notes

Roma, Rebibbia Prison, July 2021. 

If Covid-19 has devastated the free world, we can only try to imagine the cataclysm that has hit the world behind bars. In truth, only those who have experienced it closely can get an idea of it. 

Let’s try to illustrate it briefly:  

In 2020, society had already started to ignore the tragic reality of prisons under Covid. If it had not been for the senseless punitive expedition of the agents against the inmates of Santa Maria Capua Vetere, which was denounced in these first weeks of July, no one would have remembered the exceptional events that were occuring. 

Between February and April 2020, hundreds of thousands of inmates around the world tried hard not to die trapped in. 

Some countries, such as Iran and Turkey, released tens of thousands of inmates as a safety measure. Alternatively, social distancing measures were taken. In Italy they temporarily suspended the sentences of a few hundred elderly and sick people, amid the protests of some politicians who saw the “easy release” of “super-criminals”. 

In the already present condition of overcrowding and promiscuity, some Italian inmates, isolated from any contact with their families and astonished by the thousands of daily deaths in the cities beyond the walls, tried to flee in vain. 

The state always acts and wins against the few or the many who try to oppose it. 

But there are many ways in which it can act: in Santa Maria Capua Vetere, the state is represented by the videotaped slaughter and torturers of unarmed inmates. 

In Rebibbia, the State is represented by a Penitentiary Police Corps that with firmness, reason and persuasion calms the rioters and brings the prison to safety in a few hours, without laying a finger on anyone. And then, it seeks and finds possible responses to the anguish and anger of those who live or work inside the gates. 

In these two very distinct responses to the consequences of Covid in prison, lies the difference between opposing visions of punishment: the first is the affliction of the condemned as a social revenge. 

The second is the offer of a new opportunity for those who made mistakes, which is what takes place in Rebibbia.  

Rebibbia Lockdown tells on screen.  


Awards and Festivals

Press Review



  • Radio24 – Intervista alla Vice Presidente Paola Severino
  • Radio24 – Intervista al Capo del Dipartimento Amministrazione Penitenziaria (DAP) Bernardo Petralia
  • Radio 1 Rai GR – Servizio (dal minuto 0.55) con intervista al regista Fabio Cavalli e riferimento all’iniziativa nata da una idea della Vice Presidente Paola Severino
  • Radio 2 Caterpillar – Intervista al regista Fabio Cavalli e riferimento all’iniziativa nata da una idea della Vice Presidente Paola Severino