Punishment Park

The 1971 Punishment Park is an act of howling political righteousness, a dystopian critique intended for the peace-movement years but possibly even more relevant today. The premise is so simple it leaves singe marks: director Peter Watkins begins with the very real McCarran Act, which grants Ashcroftian summary-judgment powers to the president in times of potential “insurrection.” The Nixon-’Nam years were those times, and so the film follows two groups of arrested protesters as they’re led to the Western desert, interrogated by a tribunal and then sent running, with national guardsmen and riot police following on the hunt. Shot like most of Watkins’ films as a fake documentary, the movie might be the most radioactive portrait of American divisiveness and oppression ever made. The impassioned cast was largely unprofessional and, in fact, largely conformed to their radical-victim/reactionary-monocrat roles. The film is often less a narrative than a democracy-in-crisis street fight. (NR) MICHAEL ATKINSON

July 2-8, 7 & 9 p.m., 2010

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