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(The BAM Cinemfest continues to roll onward up until June 28. Hammer to Nail is on the scene and will be running several reviews like this one, the documentary Pervert Park from directors Lasse Barkfors and Frida Barkfor)

There was a man in my small town that everyone would speak of in hushed tones as he went about his unassuming life, quietly fixing bicycles in his garage on the edges of town. It took awhile before I understood the reason for the constant side glances and awkward avoidance: he was a convicted sex offender. I never thought to take pause to think about the vague connotations of this term, I so easily stigmatized him without second thought. Was he given this label by having consensual yet age inappropriate sex? Was it a violent act of uncontrollable rage? Was it a single, solitary mistake with a lasting consequence? Like most things, there is a grayscale to the term sex offender and it is this reality that the documentary Pervert Park delicately wades through.

In St. Petersburg Florida there is a trailer park community of transitional housing for sex offenders recently released from prison. The program was started by a mother in 1996 when her own son’s conviction made finding a home difficult due to the many regulations regarding his proximity to children. Schools, bus stops, camps must remain at a distance from the perpetrator’s residence. The film takes a step closer towards the lives of these outcast figures, turning the camera on a few inhabitants of this ramshackle community.

The film doesn’t make you empathize with these offenders but it does humanize them. It explores the twisted home lives that many of the convicted are a product of. It looks at the confusing terrain of victimhood. It exposes an American system largely ill equipped to handle both the causes and the effects regarding crimes of a sexual nature. The community these convicts live in isn’t just a residence of individual experiences though, it is also a strong network of peer support whose group therapy extends into everyday lives through shared stories. The sense of self awareness that this trailer park fosters seems to lead to personal growth for many of those that live there: to understand one another leads them to an understanding of themselves.

Pervert Park sits stylistically within a group of recent foreign made documentaries about America that all hedge around the issue of American poverty. Pine Ridge, Killing Time,Tales of the Grim Sleeper are other contemporary non-fiction films that similarly buff out the prevalent inequality in our country through muted colors and a placid, silent, perplexed tone that gazes, stunned, at our country’s innate contradictions. The observational distance of these docs widens the scope to show a much bigger picture, including those images we as a nation choose to keep on the outskirts of the frame. Pervert Park doesn’t offer judgement or answers but it does offer up a different way of looking at the things that are right next door to us that we continue to ignore, generalize and sweep under the rug until it is too late, perpetuating an American “us” versus “them” mentality that is bleakly bordering on irreconcilable.

– Donna K. (@TeamDonnaK)


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