Peter Watkins, a English film director, uses the cinéma vérité style to create a naturalistic landscape for his film to take place. Hand held cameras and distinctive editing techniques help form a mock documentary about what the world could have been if history had turned out just a little differently while still commenting on the politcal and social turmoil of the country during the Vietnam War.
According to Watkins, there was a piece of legistlation floating around Washington around the time Nixon ordered the secret bombings on Cambodia that, if passed, would call for the construction of "camps" for those deemed to be "risks to internal security." Punishment Park follows a fictional film crew through one of these camps.
In the film, a group of anti-war protesters and activists are taken to a "punishment park" where they are to remain captive until their sentences run up. In the park, the activists are forced to run sixty miles through the desert over the course of three days with no food or water. They are promised water at the half-way point. If they make it the enitre sixty miles, they'll reach an American flag which represents their freedom. The consequence for not making the entire journey is death. National Guard officers and a group of hardbrow cops chase the fleeing "criminals" through the desert.
The most powerful speeches of the film is delivered by one of the female prisoners where she states that she supports the American people--not the American government. She doesn't support the government because the government does not support the people.
It's difficult to not make connections between this film and the numerous films chronicling the happenings at Guantamo Bay and Abu Ghraib that have been released this year (Standard Operating Procedure, Taxi to the Dark Side, Harold and Kumar...). As disturbing as it is to learn about the punishment methods of your country, it's pretty clear that putting these events out of your mind isn't going to change anything. These films were made to spark discussions which would hopefully grow into a change-affecting force. What's fascinating about Punishment Park it it's relevance over thirty years after its initial release date. Park attempts to spark conversations as well, and those conversations held in the seventies are still being held today. The characters have changed but the story's still the same. Our country's government is out of control and their power is mind-blowing.
Punishment Park blew me away. Walking in with absolutely no knowledge of the film's style, plot, or politics, created a situation where I could take in the film with fresh eyes, without my preconceptions fogging up my movie-going glasses. If there's any part of you that's interested in American or world history and politics, take the time to watch this film.