Posted by: greercn | March 29, 2010

In The Land Of The Free

One way or another, I’ve been seeing a lot of prison films lately. I once wrote a lot about prisons and I have a life-long fascination with the whole concept. When I was young,  I used to visit prisons, teach English and basic literacy, write letters and leave after a few hours feeling that this way of dealing with punishment could not bring redemption. It made me feel smug and worthy.

But those jail movies I have seen recently told fictional tales with big dollops of glamour. This film tells a real-life drama. It reminded me of the days I spent prison reporting and teaching and it felt true.

Seeing “In The Land Of The Free” was a freebie and offered a warm, private and small central London screening room on a wet March early evening. It also offered a refreshingly short 84 minutes in length so – even if painful – it would be over swiftly. Those were my thoughts rushing in after a long day at work, wondering why I had ticked the “yes, I will attend” box a week ago.

Wow. This searing and incredible compelling documentary packs a punch way above its length. The silken tones of Samuel L Jackson start the narration and draw you into what is a gripping story. Three young men are in solitary confinement for decades for a crime the viewer becomes convinced they did not commit. Just think about it. You might be annoyed about something unfair that happened in your day, but it didn’t send you to the hell that is Angola prison, the 18-acre former plantation in Louisiana that  offers the set.

Yes, we know jail is just awful. Yes, we believe that incarceration is harsh, but we probably also think that those who are there deserve it, because of their crimes. But the arguments run like the hanging and capital punishment arguments. One miscarriage of justice is one too many. Our feelings are less simple when crime affects us. As a society, our views on this are confused and ambivalent.

This film brings in some clarity and shines a spotlight on the events. Robert King, Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox were all convicted of murder. You cannot believe they did the crime, given the way this story is told.

Congressman John Conyers is an amazing advocate on their behalf. Those used to seeing and hearing him on American television will be impressed, yet again, at his stature and poise.

See it. It’s a magnificent achievement. The only Vadim Jean film I had seen before was the Terry Pratchett “Hogfather” which was very entertaining. This movie is in a different league of achievement.

I like to think and I do that with books and paper. In film, I usually prefer action movies. But this is one of the very best movies I have ever seen and, undoubtedly, the best documentary. It takes you into darkness but lets you feel you can bring light in. It’s not an easy movie, but it zaps along and gets you deep into the heart of the story. I feel very privileged to have seen it.


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