Milwaukee Film Festival 2016: The Prison in Twelve Landscapes
By Devvon Eubanks
The correctional institution is one of the most prominent sources of funding and regulation among the country's diverse socioeconomic systems. In “The Prison in Twelve Landscapes,” Canadian filmmaker Brett Story examines various angles of the American prison system through twelve locations in the country and the organization’s place in the social fabric of society. The documentary reflects on areas that benefit from the penal system, as well as individual stories on how the prisons, courts, and America’s justice system can be imbalanced and sometimes prejudiced. This is an industry that is not talked about much, and some of the shocking information Story presents helps the viewer to question whether or not the criminal justice system is fair and lawful towards all people. But while some of the information is eye-opening, the journey to these details can be painfully slow at times. The film presents a lot of still shots of objects, some shaky camera moments, scenes with little to no sound or background music, and innumerable shots of the various cities and landscapes before any real information is given to keep the viewer engaged. The addition of a narrator or on-screen facts could have been used to make better use of the silent spaces and give the audience even more startling tidbits to mull over. And one scene presented in the film feels like a partial advertisement or training video for a loan organization. Was the company utilizing the funds generated by the correctional system to cultivate their business, or did they partner with an area of the courts or prison departments in some way? Regardless of these issues in the documentary, though, Story has presented a timely concern that is plaguing modern society, especially when coupled with the recent police shootings and the “Black Lives Matter” campaign throughout the country. How much more will this institution continue to grow and will anyone be able challenge its inner workings so everyone will have a right to justice and a fair trial or ruling? “The Prison in Twelve Landscapes” may just be the beginning of this dialogue between the justice system and the American people.