Directed by Peter Watkins
Running time: 88 minutes
An obscure, virtually forgotten film, Punishment Park (1971) was written and directed by iconoclastic, British director Peter Watkins. An allegorical fable set against the background of an escalating Vietnam war and the failing Nixon administration, it depicts a dystopic 'what if' scenario where a group of anti-establishment figures have been detained as a threat to internal security. The group have the option to avoid prison sentence if they participate in a law enforcement exercise in 'Punishment Park', a section of the South Californian desert. The dissidents, who include hippies, feminists, pop stars and draft dodgers, are promised freedom only if they evade the pursuing law enforcement officers and reach the American flag, posted 53 miles away across the mountains, within three days. Watkins's shot the film in the film guerilla-style, with a hand-held, 16mm camera, blurring the lines between fictional and documentary storytelling and producing compelling performances from its young professional and non-professional actors who were cast primarily for their real-life political beliefs. His demanding cinéma verité style visibly pushed some of his actors to the brink and since much of the dialogue was improvised, the film feels palpably tense with tempers flaring – both in the story and in real life – under such harsh climactic conditions. Punishment Park has been described as “an astonishing all-American dystopia that is both terrifyingly realistic and fantastically hyperbolic” and although particularly referencing 70s counter-culture, is still feels as relevant and disturbing today as it did at the time of its release.
Reservation is not necessary, but places are limited. Please arrive early to avoid disappointment.