A poetic and confrontational film by Ellen Vermeulen

Wilfried refers to himself as ‘king one-eye in the land of the blind’. This land lays in Merksplas’ prison in Belgium and the blind are the internees who reside in the prison without treatment. Mentally ill criminals in Belgium are not held responsible for their actions but become separated from society. Their criminal acts range from murder to setting fire to a bike. Due to the lack of places in psychiatric hospitals, mentally ill criminals end up in prison without any possibility for therapy nor end date. Their files mention as date of release: 31/12/9999.

9999 intertwines five different stories of these ‘blind.’ These men are waiting; for comfort, for hope, for freedom, for change. The time between their prison bars is altogether different from the time outside the prison walls. Time is annihilated. The only thing that remains is an eternal confrontation; a confrontation with their deeds and with their illness. There is nothing else. In this film we disappear, together with the characters in need of treatment, behind the inexorable closed doors. We wait side by side.

The film was screened at European Court of Human Rights. 9999 was the first film in its history to be mentioned as an argument in an arrest to convict the state of Belgium for inhumane treatment of internees in Belgian prisons.

About the director

Talented director Ellen Vermeulen (1982) goes far beyond most directors would go when tackling a topic. She creates in her strong, unique and sincere style, films which can reach an audience over and over again. This time Ellen teams up again with her favorite DOP Jonathan Wannyn and editor Dieter Diependaele.

9999 is Ellen's second production with Associate Directors.


Many films are being made about human rights violations, however few focus on West-European stories. Belgium has often been condemned by the European Human Rights Court in Strasbourg for the (non) treatment of internees, which forced Belgium to pay a variation of monetary penalties - yet failed to change the situation. This internment of mentally ill patients in prison remains an ongoing and fundamental problem even in the ‘developed’ societies.

It is not a marginalised or covered polemic; everybody knows of its occurrence, but very few strive to change it. The fact that inhuman internments which are observed in this film take place in the centre of the European Union, only increases its tragedy.


Pure registration would produce a nagging and exasperating film. By interpreting and translating the situation, Ellen comes to a musing and poetic film. The style represents the atmosphere of the prison. Quietness versus tension, boredom, inertia, consternation versus fight.

Many of them talk absorbed in thought, sometimes looking in the camera, to reinforce their words. The camera becomes a service – hatch, as if there is no camera and there is a direct contact between the viewer and the character. The viewer becomes imprisoned in the image, without any possible escape. The mood in the cell is intimate. We are locked up with the characters and they confide in us initiating an identification process within each sensible viewer.


Directed by Ellen Vermeulen

Editor – Dieter Diependaele

Dop – Jonathan Wannyn

Sound Mix – Raf Enckels

Graphic Design  – Tom Hautekiet

Grading  – Veerle Zeelmaekers

Awards & festivals

World premiere: Visions du Réel - special jury mention Regard Neuf

Belgian premiere: MOOOV Film festival

Docville, Leuven (BE)

Film Festival Ostend (BE)

Kasseler Dok Fest (DE)

This Human World, Vienna (AT)

Porto/post/doc, (PR)

Docpoint, Helsinki (FI)

One World, Prague (CZ)

Movies That Matter, The Hague (NL)

Flemish film week Strasbourg

Pärnu IDFF (EE)

Festival du film policier Liège (BE)

Addis Ababa Film Festival (ET)

Fokus Labe (CZ)

Nederlands Film Festival, Utrecht (NL)

Document Human Rights Film Festival, Glasgow (UK)

Open City Documentary Film Festival, London (UK)

Production details

Duration: 71' and 52'

In coproduction with Lichtpunt

Supported by Flanders Audiovisual Fund (VAF)

In association with Liga voor Mensenrechten & Orde van Vlaamse Balies

Language: Dutch & French

Subtitles: English, Dutch, French, Dutch-French