When trying to decide what to see this year at Thin Line Fest, I chose films that deal with issues which matter to me. This pairing of Chain Gang and The Sweet Spot sparked my curiosity most.
There are plenty of hot button topics involving prison systems in this country, including overcrowding, human rights, the death penalty, and the debate as to whether or not they actually bring about positive change. Chain Gang documents the life of a select group of prisoners in the famed Maricopa County prison system. Both men and women are given a chance to tell a few stories, including their offenses that landed them there. The film manages to stay just out of reach of portraying an opinion. If you are looking for a film to help stoke the fires of whether or not this kind of punishment should happen, you will be disappointed. Instead, we are given a glimpse of the type of prisoners on the chain gang and how they feel about it. The viewer is left to form her/his own opinion.
In stark contrast, The Sweet Spot hardly mentions life in prison. This short focuses on one now reformed citizen and her life before and after her imprisonment. Elizabeth's desire to bring something good to her family and community gives this viewer a sense of hope. She is the rainbow she paints on her candy store.
Interestingly enough, neither film gave me answers as to what to do about our prison systems. I'm not sure if the institutions work or not. Surely the answer is something not very gratifying, like "sometimes." What these films do give us are faces to go with the numbers. We learn that some people make serious errors and have addictions that mean they may likely never recover. Others take their situation and do the work to make things better. We are shown humanity.
I highly recommend this pairing, but please note there is a good amount of graphic storytelling in Chain Gang. Definitely not for the young or faint of heart. They are showing on February 21st at 6:15 p.m. in the Campus Theatre.