The Scales of Justice

Thinking over the many contradictions of a system of law and justice can be a maddening process, an impossible riddle to solve. What is this system? Documentaries in this curated program focus on criminal justice around the world. They help us to understand the logic of a prison system, but also the people passing through it; their lives, their families, their stories.

When thinking about criminal justice systems around the world, cinema is in this way an utterly indispensable tool — it gives us the ability to put faces to figures and statistics, to understand a vast, interconnected legal superstructure in simple human terms. The works in this special focus on criminal justice around the world hand us the tools to do just that.

In Audrius Mickevičius’ Exemplary Behaviour, the director himself comes face to face with some of the problems of the system and must find a way to find peace with it. In this case, it is direct and shocking: his brother’s admitted killers, sentenced to ten years in prison, are released after only five years. The reason? “Exemplary behaviour.” Meanwhile, legendary Latvian filmmaker Herz Frank’s The Last Judgement shows the system from the reverse angle. In this case, we enter a dialogue with a convicted killer, Valerij Dolgov, who awaits the death penalty in his cell. The particulars of the crime are not the object here. Instead, Frank is interested by the life of this man — the path that lead him first to crime and then to murder.

In a more contemporary mode is The Prison in Twelve Landscapes, which takes these tensions outdoors, focusing our attention on a panorama of seemingly unrelated locations. In each place, we encounter new characters and new situations through which we make unexpected discoveries to do with prison life: for example, that the patch of grass and swing set in a Los Angeles neighborhood was built by parolees with sex offender status barred from living within 2000 feet of any parks or schools. A warehouse full of boxer shorts, a California forest fire, an abandoned coalfield, a tech incubator hub in downtown Detroit — all these are products of prison labor, and therefore bear the traces of the carceral system in their own way.

Selected films is powered by Doc Alliance, a creative partnership of 7 key European documentary film festivals. Our aim is to advance the documentary genre, support its diversity and promote quality creative documentary films.

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