Updated: Jul 14, 2020
Directed by: #AntonySpina
Written by: Antony Spina
Short Film Review by: #ChrisBuick
The degradation and inefficiencies of prison systems all over the world is something that has been and continues to be at the forefront of countless media projects both factual and fictional. Yet it seems that despite an ever-increasing amount of coverage, issues such as overpopulation, increased violence and drug use amongst inmates, under-staffing and of course under-funding seem to have only been exacerbated, while the people who run them, the people who work in them and the people who inhabit them all have their fingers pointing firmly in differing directions as to where the blame lies.
Now, adding his own fuel to a very important and perpetually topical fire, London-based filmmaker Antony Spina follows up his impressive 2017 debut Sad Little Boy with The Programme, a thought-provoking documentary-style thought-experiment choc-full of hard-hitting moral conundrums and ethical dilemmas.
In the technically fictional (but frankly quite possible) near future, Professor Malcolm P. Rutterford (Stone) has developed a unique programme for prisoners consisting of a combination of chemical treatments and behavioural therapies that claims to successfully rehabilitate even the worst of cases and has helped “solve” the prison crisis in America. As the programme picks up traction and attention from several other nations both positive and negative, we hear through a series of interviews the opinions on the controversial new program from all levels of the penal system, from the inmates to the guards and officers on the frontlines all the way up to the powers that be, all of whom also share their thoughts on where they believe the current problems lie and of course who is to blame.
The Programme may be a dramatisation of currently theoretical practices, but the uneasy questions it raises and constantly asks of us are very real. Where do we as a society draw the line ethically and morally on such subjects? Aren’t even the worst “monsters” still deserving of their basic human rights? How much of our values are we willing to compromise when you can’t argue with the results? Having explored the subject of mental health in his aforementioned debut, Spina is no stranger to tackling hard-hitting topics in his work. But while it’s one thing to simply make such issues the core of your film, it's another thing entirely to ensure they are handled with the grace, sensitivity and when required, impartiality they deserve which is what Spina does here and also what elevates him from a good filmmaker to a great one.
Opting to give the film a global setting (for what is of course a global issue) is a move that also deserves a lot of credit. So simple it’s almost ridiculous yet its fundamental in not only establishing the hypothetical world Spina is trying to create but also making sure the #shortfilm sells its documentary premise to the point it wouldn’t seem too out of place amongst more factually-driven offerings, which for the most part it does. However, a few of the performances unfortunately manage to snap us out of that suspended belief to remind us of the ruse. Also, intentionally or not, the film does begin to slightly abandon its neutral stance somewhere in the final third and descends a bit into melodrama before righting itself again for the finale.
Brilliantly convincing in its delivery while asking all the right questions, The Programme makes it two hits in a row for Spina and we can’t wait to see what he delivers for his hat trick.