Film Reviews

Review: ‘The Prison in Twelve Landscapes’

Hot Docs 2016

Courtesy of Hot Docs


The Prison in Twelve Landscapes
(Canada/USA, 87 min.)
Dir. Brett Story
Programme: Canadian Spectrum (Canadian Premiere)

“Y’all are Canadian, so y’all are probably not used to hearing this word,” says St. Louis County’s Darrick Reed to director Brett Story. “But you can kill a nigga any time you feel like it.” Reed’s unsettling observation on the Black Lives Matter movement, and the violence by police officers that inspired it, is among the dozen unnerving pieces that Story assembles as she collects shards of a broken structure in The Prison in Twelve Landscapes. By looking at America’s penal system from a multitude of unconventional angles, Story eviscerates America’s prison industry. Story, the inaugural recipient of DOC’s New Visions Award, delivers an immersive, absorbing, and damning film.

A Canuck ex-pat living in New York, Story poetically observes the U.S.’ system of punishment that is so foreign to the Canadian ethos. The film is at its strongest when Reed’s vignette extends the tale of the futility of the prisons to an analysis of the larger systemic problems of racism that make the slammer so lucrative for Uncle Sam. Other stories in the doc include an entrepreneur who turns the prison’s convoluted list of acceptable care packages for inmates into a business; an unexpected firefighter who likens chain gangs to slaves, and a woman who outrageously served 15 days in prison because her garbage can had a lid attached to a pail.

Especially effective are the stories from voices that call into a radio show and offer messages for loved ones in prison. This meditative and handsomely-shot essay on the ineffectiveness of America’s punitive system subtly transfixes and absorbs the viewer. America’s prisons aren’t helping anyone: they simply divide families and ruin lives while keeping a pervasive problem out of sight and mind.

The Prison in Twelve Landscapes screens:
-Tuesday, May 3 at Cineplex Scotiabank at 6:15 PM
-Thursday, May 5 at TIFF Bell Lightbox at 2:45 PM
-Saturday, May 7 at Cineplex Scotiabank at 1:30 PM

Please visit the POV Hot Docs hub for more coverage on this year’s festival.

Hot Docs runs April 28 – May 8. Visit www.hotdocs.ca for more information.

Pat Mullen is POV’s Associate Online Editor, etc. He covers film at Cinemablographer.com, and has contributed to The Canadian Encyclopedia, Paste, BeatRoute, Modern Times Review, and Documentary magazine and is a member of the Toronto Film Critics Association and the Online Film Critics Society. You can reach him at @cinemablogrpher

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