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PUNISHMENT PARK

USA, 1971 (MIFF 1971, Programme K)

Director: Peter Watkins

Political polarisation has become a problem of international proportion, characterised by closed minds and unyielding attitudes. Punishment Park is a projection of this situation into the future, based on certain present-day American realities.

Events take place tomorrow, yesterday or five years from now. But they are also happening today. The war has continued to widen, and draft resistance has increased proportionately. A national emergency has been called as the forces of "law and order" feel compelled to entrench more firmly their power.

The military has set up quasi-judicial tribunals where draft evaders and other "social deviants" are given a choice of serving their penal sentences or undertaking a three-day endurance test at Punishment Park. A two-part allegory, the film in documentary style initially traces a group through their three-day ordeal at Punishment Park. The second situation covers each of seven defendants as they confront the tribunal, after having been found guilty of conspiring to overthrow the government by force.

Peter Watkins' first film, The Diary of an Unknown Soldier (1959), which he financed himself as a totally amateur production, took off one of the ten best awards at the annual “Amateur Cine World competition. His next film, The Forgotten Faces repeated the feat in 1961. His third, and first professional film, Culloden, made as a television documentary, attracted worldwide attention for its techniques in reconstructing an historical event.

A year later, Watkins made The War Game, which reconstructed, in newsreel manner, the effects of a thermonuclear attack on Britain. Though banned by the BBC, for whom it was made, the film went on to win an “Oscar” for the best feature-length documentary for 1966. His other films include Privilege and The Gladiators.

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