In the Land of the Free (2009) – Film Review

Samuel L. Jackson narrates this documentary...

The Angola 3 are a group of prisoners who were placed in solitary confinement in Louisiana State Penetentiary in 1972 for the murder of a prison guard. In the Land of the Free is a documentary that profiles the lives of the three men – Robert King (released in 2001), Albert Woodfox, and Herman Wallace (who are both still incarcerated). Placed in solitary confinement for 36 years, Woodfox and Wallace have since been moved to a maximum security dormitory after years of campaigning by King and others sympathetic to their cause.

The documentary purports to tell the story of the three young men but ends up painting a picture of a generation disenfranchised by the lack of the expected opportunities that desegregation would bring, coupled with mass poverty and awful living conditions. Alongside this, the film tells the story of the Black Panther side of the civil rights movement in the USA through the prism of our three prisoners, who were all members prior to being arrested. It’s hinted at throughout the film that the ulterior motive behind the detention of the three prisoners was that, as Black Panthers, they were seen as a corrupting force within the prison community – they called for prison reforms, better working conditions, etc. – and the authorities would seize upon the first chance they could to keep them separated and quietened.

As a story, the subject is compelling and makes for interesting watching. As a piece of film-making, the director uses evocative cinematography and great use of period newsreels and stock footage to round out the story and properly contextualise each element of the unfolding narrative. Some moments left in the film, like the harsh mechanical voice of the automated operator counting down to the end of the call on the phone line the prisoners talk through, subtly show the truly horrendous conditions that the three men lived, and two of whom continue to live, in. Even the victim’s wife doesn’t think the three are guilty, which adds to the confusion surrounding the case. With appeals still pending, we can only hope that justice will soon be done. In the meantime this distinctly average, but by no means terrible, film will stoke the flames of publicity in their favour.

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