Film #245: PUNISHMENT PARK
4 out of 5 stars
Made in 1971 at a time near the end of the Viet Nam War and after events like Kent State, this dramatized-documentary about tribunals set up to try and convict “radicals” for “crimes against the nation” is completely timely given the present political climate. After a kangaroo court convicts students, folk singers, intellectuals, and pacifists, the guilty are given a choice - 7-10 years in a federal penitentiary or “Punishment Park.” The Park is a 3 day exercise in which the convicted must travel 50+ miles across a desert on foot with police & National Guard hot on their trail. After a small group of the convicted fight back and kill a soldier, the military pretty much takes themselves off their leash and the true nature of The Park becomes clear… and it ain’t picnics under the desert sun. The narrative jumps between a new group of defendants being tried and a convicted group trying to make their way to safety. While the film is HEAVY with rhetoric and there are a few missteps logic-wise, the power of the film is undeniable. I lost count at the times I felt as if this kind of thing could EASILY happen today what with extreme Right-wing, Christian drumbeaters, a diminished economy, and a young populace that feels lacking in its own power. It helps to know and understand the time in which the film was made, but… even those who don’t know a thing about The Chicago Seven or Bobby Seale will be able to relate and appreciate the film’s themes. Highly recommended!