Punishment Park


A British documentary crew follows a band of American “dissidents” who have been pre-emptively charged for “possible acts of sabotage”. Brought before a tribunal, they’re offered an alternative: three days in Punishment Park and a promised freedom. All they have to do is get across 53 miles of burning desert before the armed police get ’em...

Shot in two-and-a-half weeks for $95,000, with amateur actors improvising their lines within a mockumentary format (zooms, judders, lens flares), Punishment Park plays like a prototype Battle Royale. It was informed by the escalating war in Vietnam and the trial of the Chicago Seven; and, with its raw imagery and confrontational dialogue, it was dismissed by many as an anti-American rant. But as director Peter Watkins points out during the 30-minute intro, he saw the film as a warning shot against the risks of political polarisation, arguing that its themes are both timeless and universal. Watched now, it’s hard to disagree.


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