The Prison in Twelve Landscapes Screen 10 articles

The Prison in Twelve Landscapes


The Prison in Twelve Landscapes Poster
  • It never really hangs together in any meaningful way beyond its obvious message:  that the U.S. has a serious prison problem. And in fact, Story's refusal to assert that message more directly, to circle around it with her variety of evasive, self-conscious documentarian techniques feels less like an organic outgrowth of the film's balanced critique than a personally motivated effort to not come off as a message-mongerer.

  • What Story doesn't do is notable: refraining from chopping her film up into an impersonal array of talking heads, narration, reenactments, and stock footage, refusing to fashion The Prison in Twelve Landscapes into a medley of taken-for-granted film grammar that effectively deadens the immediacy of her subject. Story both strips the modern documentary of varnish and resists the urge to preach, which is remarkable considering the urgency of the subject matter.

  • The film’s conceptual framework proves to be both a strength and and a limitation. By focusing on the roots the prison system grows into the surrounding communities, rather than the facilities themselves, Story gradually builds an implicit case that the real end of incarceration is not to redress social ills but only to push them out of sight. But in dividing her attention between so many locales, she misses the chance to enrich these vignettes with the context they deserve.

  • While the doc eventually tilts into righteous anger, its ingenious conceit subtly and artfully registers how mass incarceration affects society in ways the public can’t always see.

  • An impressive, genre-subverting work, and one that deserves to be seen on the big screen. It is neither an art film or an advocacy film, or perhaps it is both. It is intellectual and abstract, yet emotional and engaging. Shot by Maya Bankovic in a restrained and mediative style, Story studiously avoids the obvious in favor of the associative. You don’t see an actual prison until the film’s final fleeting shot, and yet you have felt its presence throughout.

  • Story’s 12-part structure is both an assertion and a vessel, and crucially the latter serves the former, allowing for both anecdote and essay, whisper and shout, without any of it reading as either a tonal or formal violation. Sometimes the formalism is rigorous, other times it’s vigorous, but regardless, subject is prioritized rather than the conceit itself.

  • Ms. Story’s unconventional approach provokes responses that a traditional facts-and-figures discussion might not. Yet the film’s formal abstraction, far from creating emotional distance, is unexpectedly moving. Bracketed by scenes from the overnight bus that takes prisoners’ families from Manhattan to the Attica Correctional Facility in upstate New York, the movie highlights racial bias with a precision that’s all the more potent for being refracted.

  • Brett Story powerfully rethinks America’s over-incarceration problem as a kind of mass disease that you can read in the scenery.

  • In her documentary, Story and director of photography Maya Bankovic fuse lush, lyrical imagery and a meditative pace to create a haunting examination of the prison system’s imprint on free society that is slow-moving but never idle. Story acts as silent cartographer, mapping the impact of the prison industrial complex onto American society and leaving new understandings of criminality, punishment, policing, and economics without employing a hardened didacticism.

  • With a PhD in geography and a background in journalism, on top of impressive filmmaking chops, it’s no wonder that Story is able to objectively merge facts and images in such an artful way. We need films like this more than ever. We have the stories and the feelings they arise, but we must also have the facts, and Story combines these seemingly antithetical entities into a cohesive work that has as much power to sway as it does to awe.

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