Tonight at Cinefamily in Los Angeles, where they’ll be screening a brand new 35mm print of Peter Watkins’ counterculture classic, Punishment Park (showing for an entire week, co-sponsored by BAFTA) there will be a reunion afterwards of Punishment Park‘s cast and crew:
Completely singular in the world of cinema due to his one-of-a-kind blurring of the lines between documentary and fiction storytelling, Peter Watkins is one of the most neglected major filmmakers of the last half-century. Since the early 1960s, the British-born director has managed, against trying and often adversarial circumstances, to produce a highly original and powerful body of work that engages the worlds of politics, art, history, and literature. That these films remain obscure is a function of such factors as suppression by producers or weak-kneed film distributors, surprisingly unsympathetic — at times hostile — critics, and the filmmaker’s own legendary iconoclasm.
The Cinefamily is very, very excited to bring to Los Angeles the brand-new 35mm print of Punishment Park, Watkins’ lone 1971 foray into stateside filmmaking. 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 camera 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.
In addition to our one-week run of Punishment Park, the series also includes Watkins’ scathing showbiz satire Privilege (1967), and his early award-winning British productions The War Game (1965, winner of the 1966 Academy Award for Best Documentary Film) and Culloden (1964).
If you’re unable to make it out to Cinefamily’s historic Punishment Park cast and crew reunion Q&A — you can catch the whole thing streaming live at their blog. The Q&A will kick off at approx. 9:15pm (PST)