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Punishment Park

  • Drama
  • Thriller
  • 1971
  • Peter Watkins
  • 87 mins
  • X


"Punishment Park" is a pseudo-documentary purporting to be a film crews's news coverage of the team of soldiers escorting a group of hippies, draft dodgers, and anti-establishment types across the desert in a type of capture the flag game. The soldiers vow not to interfere with the rebels' progress and merely shepherd them along to their destination. At that point, having obtained their goal, they will be released. The film crew's coverage is meant to insure that the military's intentions are honorable. As the representatives of the 60's counter-culture get nearer to passing this arbitrary test, the soldiers become increasingly hostile, attempting to force the hippies out of their pacifist behavior. A lot of this film appears improvised and in several scenes real tempers seem to flare as some of the "acting" got overaggressive. This is a interesting exercise in situational ethics. The cinéma vérité style, hand-held camera, and ambiguous demands of the director - would the actors be able to maintain their roles given the hazing they were taking - pushed some to the brink. The cast's emotions are clearly on the surface. Unfortunately this film has gone completely underground and is next to impossible to find. It would offer a captivating document of the distrust that existed between soldiers willfully serving in the military and those persons who opposed the war peacefully.

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A star rating of 4 out of 5.

This is the best of the socio-political fantasies made by Peter Watkins, whose controversial films include the futuristic satire Privilege and The War Game, his meditation on nuclear holocaust. This drama retains The War Game's documentary feel, as draft dodgers who oppose America's military involvement in Indo-China are put in detention camps where they must chose between a long jail sentence or a three-day ordeal in "Punishment Park". Watkins plays the leader of a British documentary film unit observing one group of dissenters as they take the latter option and run for their lives across a desert and face fascist terror tactics. Powerful and depressing, this virtual restaging of the Vietnam War in America's heartland is an outstanding indictment of repression and insidious state bullyboy tactics.

How to watch




Captain, Sheriff's DepartmentJim Bohan
County SheriffVan Daniels
Professor DalyFrederick Franklyn
Jay KaufmanCarmen Argenziano
Charles RobbinsStan Armsted
Mrs JergensGladys Golden
Senator HarrisSanford Golden
DefendantPatrick Boland
DocumentaristPeter Watkins


DirectorPeter Watkins


Theatrical distributor
The Other Cinema
Released on
Available on
DVD and Blu-ray

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