Made after the killings at Kent State in 1970, this Peter Watkins film eerily parallels Phil Ochs' contention to an audience that same year at Carnegie Hall, stating that he believed dissidents would be rounded up by the government.
QUESTION: Will you tell us about Punishment Park?
JOAN CHURCHILL: It was a fictional story about the U.S. government rounding up protesters during the Vietnam War and putting them on trial. When people were found guilty, they could choose to go either to prison or to run a course across the desert to reach an American flag that was 50 miles away. The course was a training ground for the police and military. We shot in the Mojave Desert during the summer on 16 mm. Peter didn’t use actors and there was no script. People pretty much played themselves and improvised. In one scene, we had a Black Panther on trial confronted by a man who was a judge in real life. And in the desert, real cops were chasing real dissidents. Things got quite heated, literally and figuratively. The film was shot as if it were a documentary. I never knew what was going to happen from scene to scene. The entire budget was $25,000 and that included an optical blowup. It caused a huge controversy when it was shown theatrically, because people thought it was real.