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Sundance 2015, Day 5: Experiments, pariahs, and the world’s worst nightmares
If the two experiment films complemented one another nicely, a subsequent back-to-back pairing caused some serious whiplash. The documentary Pervert Park (Grade: B+), from married filmmakers Frida and Lasse Barkfors, performs an act of brave and unpopular advocacy, granting a voice to society’s most detested: a group of sex offenders, all convicted for transgressions involving children. Without judgment or sentimentality, the filmmakers embed themselves in the Florida trailer-park community of these pariahs, coaxing candid and confessional interviews from each. In its unforced, mostly objective way, Pervert Park dares to provoke empathy for people who have abandoned all defensive rationales for their behavior, and who most of the world would rather just disappear forever. If forgiveness is impossible, maybe understanding is possible.
Florida Justice Transitions looks like any other American trailer park. Only discreet electronic ankle tags and sporadic vandalism bear witness to the fact that the residents are all convicted sex offenders. From misdemeanours to monstrous crimes. And in a state with tough laws, this means in practice that the inhabitants are condemned to a life in isolation from society. The park’s residents are left to themselves to find out what comes after crime and punishment. The debut directing couple Frida & Lasse Barkfors take us behind the invisible fence of stigmatisation, lend a human face to an outcast community of demonised sex offenders – and forces us to take sides in a moral dilemma, which is more profound and complex than one possibly feels like being reminded of. For no matter whether the residents themselves are victims, one inevitably asks oneself if there are some things that can not – or should not ? – be forgiven. ‘Pervert Park’ is a sensitive and intimate film with a diabolic sense of not letting us off lightly when it comes to its inflamed topic.
Sundance ‘15 trailer of the day: ‘Pervert Park’ Salt Lake Tribune
Pervert Park is an interesting film about convicted sex offenders that all live in this trailer park in St. Petersburg Florida. Why do they live in this trailer park? According to Florida law, a convicted sex offender cannot live within 1,000 feet of a school, church, or any other public place that children might be. The trailer park is one of the few locations that these folks can live and comply with the rules.
The film really puts a face on “sexual predators”. Who they are, crimes that they have committed and their treatment thereafter.
The foreign filmmakers (one from Sweden and the other from Denmark) share in the Q&A that they got the idea for the film after seeing an article that was published in Scandinavia about this parallel universe in the states where all of these offenders are self-sufficient and shunned by society. While it didn’t turn out as filmmakers Frida and Lasse Barkfors were expecting, they thought they could still tell a story with this film.
They certainly did tell a story. One that explains that no two offenders are alike. One that says a person who takes sexual advantage of dozens of children should NOT be treated the same as someone who was entrapped after courting a 14 year olds mother.
One of the themes that is prevalent in the documentaries of this year’s Sundance Festival is that we are all products of our environment. Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, Dreamcatcher and Pervert Park all share that commonality.
Pervert Park is a complicated tale, but it is one that is approached very delicately. It takes a lot of courage to open up about a low point in your life and how you are overcoming your past. However, the Barkfors’ capture this moments genuinely.
The film has not yet been picked up for mass distribution as of this writing.
Five Questions with Pervert Park Directors Frida and Lasse Barkfors
Review of “Pervert Park”: Documentary on Florida Justice Transitions “Pervert Park”
Do sex offenders get a bad rap? Would you want a sex offender as a neighbor, around your children? These questions are seemingly easy to answer. When someone gets convicted of a sex offense, they become defined by the crime by law and by society; their motivations are left unquestioned due to the devastating nature of the crime. “Pervert Park” offers a fresh and notably controversial perspective on the subject, as it explores the humanity of the offenders in question. Documentarians Frida and Lasse Barkfors take us into the Florida Justice Transitions, a private community that houses over one hundred sex offenders.
Founded by Nancy Morais, mother of a convicted sex offender, the private institution provides homes for those who couldn’t find a place to live after they were convicted. The residents, both men and women, have developed a tightknit community, bonded by their similar situations as they learn to cope with the crimes they have committed and attempt to move on with their lives.
While the residents seem optimistic about their future, they still carry the shame of their crimes with them whenever they leave their community, and frequently deal with harassment by strangers who know about their past misdeed. As we follow residents through their daily lives, we are given insight into their dark pasts and how they became the people they are today.
Through tense interviews with the residents, some telling their stories for the first time, it becomes apparent that lot of them were victims themselves. Many of the residents suffered physical and sexual abuse as children, or dealt with addiction, dysfunctional family environments, and even entrapment by the law.
Don Sweeney, a dedicated therapist who previously treated victims of sexual offenders, works with each of the residents to help them transition back into society, and work toward an understanding of what brings these people to commit such heinous acts. Through him, we see how much the residents have changed for the better. One of the subjects, William, actually had to learn to cry again, because his parents didn’t allow crying, and would abuse him when he couldn’t help it. Another resident battles with self-esteem issues that caused him to have deep rooted hatred for women.
These psychological issues have maintained a longtime impact on the residents, and it wasn’t until Sweeney came into the picture that they were able to confront their issues. The residents take full responsibility of their actions and express plenty of regret over their convictions. But it was only through therapy that they were finally able to come to terms with their past and build towards a better future. Sweeney and the residents use their stories as cautionary tales in order to break down the demonization of sex offenders and bring awareness to the lack of psychological evaluation when it comes to convicting them.
Beautifully shot by Barkfors, the movie offers ample reminders of the residents’ humanity. The filmmakers never venture too far away from the area, choosing to remain in the Florida Justice Transitions, to put the audience in the shoes of the residents. Edited with a consistently engaging pace, each resident has a chance to tell their story, which unfold against images of their daily lives: they practice music, play video games, and congregate for group meetings. The camera work maintains an intimate style as we explore the homes of the residents and gain new perspectives on their identities.
Each of thee stories is broken up into pieces, with climaxes arriving at different points throughout. The emotionally raw interviews contain just enough details to provide a sense of the subjects’ unsettling backstories without going into the graphic details of their misdeeds. Offender Tracy Hutchinson’s story is by far the most heartwrenching of the bunch, as she struggles to keep control of her emotions while recalling her crime.
With a solid execution of storytelling, combined with a powerful statement about how we perceive sex offenders, “Pervert Park” excels as a documentary that explores not only what it takes to be human, but also why psychological evaluations could be crucial in understanding the forces that bring human to commit crimes in the first place.