This is totally late, but this is my blurb for The Cinefamily’s screening of Peter Watkins’ pseudo-doc about the US-as-police-state Punishment Park.
An astonishing all-American dystopia that’s both terrifyingly realistic and fantastically hyperbolic, Peter Watkins’ masterpiece Punishment Park melts down the righteous anger of Vietnam protest politics into a nail-biting flow of pure narrative propulsion. In the film’s chilling “what-if” scenario, a uniformly groovy panoply of subversives (featuring pacifists, feminists, professors, draft dodgers and pop stars) stand in resistance against repressive establishment squares at a lethal government-sponsored kangaroo court — but survival soon trumps articulateness, as the prisoners are plunged into the deepest levels of hell right in the open air: a grueling, Most Dangerous Game-style desert death race with no food or water, but plenty of ticked-off cops. Shot guerilla-style on 16mm in a Mojave Desert dry lake bed, this docudrama trailblazer is unforgiving, raw, and scorching, and features shocking performances from its non-professional actors, who were cast primarily for their ability to speak on-camera about their real-life political beliefs. While insightfully awash in Seventies counterculture, Punishment Park is no time capsule, for what’s most terrifying is how relevant its alternate-reality police state still feels forty years later.