In the near future, America has descended into chaos and the US government has responded by imposing the Internal Security Act of 1950 – more commonly known as ‘the McCarran Act’ – which suspends many civil liberties and gives militant prisoners (hippies, draft dodgers, folk singers and anti-establishment types) the choice between a long jail term (10 to 20 years) and taking part in a challenge at ‘Punishment Park’ to win their freedom.
If they open their mouths to defend themselves they are gagged and bound and beaten.
‘Punishment Park’ requires that the prisoners survive for 96 hours on a harsh cross-country journey of 53 miles through the Mojave Desert without food or water to reach an American flag without being recaptured.
Hunting them are several members of the local sheriff’s department and National Guard.
The pursuit is followed by English and German camera crews who are filming documentaries for tv (the film is presented in quasi-documentary style) but as the crews watch, they realise that the pursuing law enforcement officers are trigger-happy and only too willing to shoot the unarmed protestors.
“Those kids made their decisions,” says a sunburned patrolman, shifting the weight of his 12-gauge Remington pump-action shotgun before setting out in pursuit of Penal Group No. 367. “And I’ve made mine. They wanted to destroy America, so now they’re out here. I want to protect it, so I’m here too.”
Some prisoners die and are left where they fall, and the few survivors who do come within sight of the flag are beaten and shot before they can reach it.
Punishment Park is an incredibly charged and angry film and is as pertinent today as it was back in 1971. Perhaps even more so.
A winner in the 1971 Atlanta Film Festival, the film was pulled from distribution in England within a week of its opening and was refused screening in the US where even today television channels will not screen the film.
Captain, Sheriff’s Department
Mary Ellen Kleinhall
FBI Agent Donovan