This week's opening of Ernest Dickerson's Blind Faith (see our Movie Capsules in the Film section), combined with Media Alliance's monthlong "Critical Resistance: Prison Film Festival," provides a crash course in that peculiarly American blight: the prison industry -- who profits; what happens to those (mostly ethnic minorities) who populate it; and, most welcome, strategies for change. Lockdown USA (Feb. 4) clarifies the connection between punishment and profit, and shows the media's sorry role in promoting hysteria about crime and how that hysteria hardens into policy. The Beat Within, Bui Doi, and Making Peace, Making Change (Feb. 11) suggest roads to reform. The use of incarcerated men for gladiator sport, drawing on prison camera footage, is one of the subjects of Maximum Security University and Pelican Bay (Feb. 18). The Fire This Time (Feb. 25) also uses documentary footage in its look at the L.A. riots that followed the Rodney King trial.
The series' opening documentary, The Farm (Jan. 28), immerses us in the vast Louisiana complex also known as Angola, a kind of minicity that a mere 15 percent of the convicts will leave. The name points to a gruesome heritage -- Angola was a plantation in the 19th century, worked by slaves from that African country. Shots of the men laboring in the fields suggest there's little difference for them between then and now. The film contrasts the white staff's clueless pride -- "This is the safest place in America!" -- with the haunted faces of six men too poor to mount an appeal even when it's clear one is in order. They maintain shreds of dignity in the face of a society determined to destroy them. Screenings are Thursdays through Feb. 25 at 7:30 p.m. at the New College Theater, 777 Valencia (at 19th Street), S.F. Admission is free; call 546-6334.
-- Gary Morris