Close Up

7 - 18 September 2018: Punishment Park


Punishment Park
Peter Watkins
1971 | 88 min | Colour | Digital

“Watkins’s study of social turmoil in the United States during the Vietnam era finds the Nixon administration establishing detention camps to curb protests from pacifists, students, black militants, and other disruptive elements of society. Invoking powers contained in the 1950 McCarran Act, the government offers convicted offenders the chance to avoid lengthy prison sentences with the option of a three-day stay in a Punishment Park, where prisoners must trek fifty-three miles across the California desert with no food or water while being chased by armed National Guardsmen authorized to shoot them on sight. The film was wholly improvised on location by the actors – nonprofessionals who actually held the political views they express in the film. The resulting climate became so realistic and tension-filled that at one point Watkins feared the actors playing Guardsmen had loaded their weapons with live ammunition to shoot real bullets at the protesters.” – Harvard Film Archive

Part of our season on Peter Watkins