Monday, 5 March 2012

Screening and Discussion - Punishment Park

On March the 8th Punishment Park will be screened from 4.15 in the New Academic Building, 3.26. This will be followed by an informal discussion.

Peter Watkins' Punishment Park (1971) is a pseudo-documentary set in a detention camp in a near-future America, where young 'terrorists' are brought in front of a jury and convicted without much of a trial. Choosing three days in Punishment Park over lengthy jail sentences, the detainees gamble their freedom on an attempt to reach an American flag - on foot and without water - through the searing heat of the desert. What follows is a lethal, one-sided game of cat-and-mouse with a squad of heavily armed police and National Guardsmen.

The blurring of ficition and reality in Punishment Park is not only due to Watkins' cinema verite style , but also because the 'actors' are not so much acting as expressing their actual beliefs and emotions, as well as drawing on their own experiences. With this film, the techniques of improvisation employed in it and its multiple layers of reality, Watkins evolved something Joseph A. Gomez has called "a psychodrama for the participants, for himself and for the audience".

Watkins' film, made in the wake of the escalation of the Vietnam War, the campus riots at Berkeley, and the trial of the Chicago Seven, makes an interesting point about America's fascistic tendencies when facing inner (as well as international) conflict. It remains relevant in the current context of the continuous 'war on terror', laws of being able to detain without trial, and the bru
tal violence facing Wall Street protesters.


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