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Sometimes you watch a film and you wonder when you’re going to touch bottom. It hits you over and over until your bruises have bruises. PERVERT PARK is that sort of film. It’s a slog knee-deep through the muck, leaving you with indelible impressions.

PERVERT PARK is the story of Florida Justice Transitions – a trailer park that has been established and houses 120 paroled sex offenders. Besides assisting its residents in keeping the distances needed from children to comply with their parole, the park allows them to continue their counselling, further their education, and try to re-establish themselves in something resembling a true community.

One by one, we hear the stories of these men and women; not their excuses, their stories. The stories they tell of what they did, and how they found themselves doing it are unflinching, sometimes horrific, often tragic, and profoundly challenging.

The film’s very existence achieves something profound: it puts us in the room with a convicted sex offender. It ties us to the chair and makes us listen to them. People who we wouldn’t give the time of day to if they asked- people we’d cross the street to avoid – are staring us in the eye and telling us their stories. It might be a story about how their day has been, or it might be a story about what they’ve been through in their lives. No matter what the story is, the film makes us listen, and in that the film gives these people something so few of us are willing to give them: a voice.

While PERVERT PARK is sympathetic to its subjects, it’s not interested in prompting sympathy. The film repeatedly takes steps to underline that while the people who live in this community have it tough, and might not have found themselves there without a push, that they undeniably have no one to blame but themselves. Even the most sympathetic young man we meet – a man whose only crime teeters on entrapment – even he can only shake his head and admit that the ultimate fault lays with him.

Our society repeatedly fails them, and the system is arguably broken, but those are only the effects, not the cause. About this, the film is crystal clear.

But do you remember that moment in THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION when Andy and Red are first talking in the prison yard? Andy mentions his innocence, Red says that he’ll fit right in because “Everyone in here is innocent”? If there’s a polar opposite to Shawshank Prison, it’s Pervert Park. Not one soul claims they didn’t do what they were convicted of doing…not one person cries injustice. There’s something deeply sobering about that, and it’s what makes this film so powerful. For all the stigmas that we brand these people with and the permanence with which we brand them, not one of them ever tries to say “I didn’t do it”.

Who amongst us would have the backbone to continually own-up to something like that? After all, the people who do have that sort of backbone…we have a hard enough time just looking them in the eye.

 

PERVERT PARK plays at Hot Docs 2015 tomorrow, Monday April 27th – 9pm at Isabel Bader Theatre. It plays again at TIFF Bell Lightbox on Tuesday April 28th – 3:45, and finally at Hart House on Friday May 1st – 7pm (official website)