Mineshaft Gap

It's a screening log, no more no less. Maybe I'll have something interesting to say one of these days...

Dissent in America.


Peter Watkins' underseen gem Punishment Park is a masterful look at dissent in America. Both wonderfully of its time and relevant to today, his vision of an American police state is hauntingly real.

1970. Two groups of radicals are detained by the US government and sent to stand trial before a civilian tribunal in the Californian desert. Upon sentencing, and all are found guilty, they are given the option of years in prison or to participate in the police training exercise called Punishment Park. In the Park the prisoners will have four days to reach a US flag some 50 miles away. They must endure heat, cold and dehydration all while avoiding the police. If they reach the flag they will be set free, that is if they can trust the police.

Watkins brilliantly interrcuts between the two groups, one undergoing questioning before the tribunal and one that has already been sent to Punishment Park. Through his pseudo-documentary style and use of nonactors he gets footage that is played as disturbingly real, and even more frightening, realistic.

These young people simply state their political views again and again, both to Watkins camera and to the inhumane tribunal, yet are constantly egged on into violence and anger. At one point one young woman attempts to reason with them that the so called violence of the students is exaggerated, while the system's violence is unreported. But then moments later she and her comrades are locked away and refused a chance to speak. Watkins' film states points like this in a way that is straightforward. He is making a political film, but one that also manages not to seem heavy handed.

Watkins filmmaking is visceral and moving. I can't imagine an audience that could have no reaction to the film. His verite camera as well as the voice of the TV crew director from off screen always put you close to the action, frequently too close in a way that becomes increasingly uncomfortable as you go along. His cinema is highly experiential. This film is a major find.


Punishment Park is presented in its original 1.33:1, with solid, crisp video that showcases some amazing handheld cinematography.


Clear, and well used. The sound design, fitting the pseudo-doc style isn't overdone but presents everything clearly.


Watkins appears in a half hour Introduction that discusses both the film in its original context as well as his feelings on current politics.

A Commentary by Dr. Joseph Gomez is scholarly, if dry as these tend to be.

Also included are a text essay and the original press kit which provide some great context.

To Sum Up:

As someone born far after the Vietnam war, Punishment Park was a great help for me in crystallizing what the radicals of the Vietnam era felt and thought. It is amazing the similarities in their worries and fears and many that I and my generation still have today. This is the type of charged, political filmmaking that we need to see more of, and I hope that the film's new release on DVD lets it become a focal point for this generation's young filmmakers.

0 Responses to “Dissent in America.”

Post a Comment