DocFest 2012: Day 3 – “Cruel and Unusual”, “Hanging Downtown” and “Without a Net”

Cruel and Unusual

Unfortunately, Cruel and Unusual is that excited party-goer who shows up right as the party’s ending.  It’s awareness call to the injustices of California’s three strikes law comes just a tad too late, which might explain the small turn out of a dozen or so viewers who showed up, especially in an ultra-liberal city as Berkeley.

As a result of last week’s voting, the law it seeks to ratify has already been amended.  Because California voters passed Proposition 36, which states that the third offense must be a felony – inmates currently serving a life sentence for violating their third strike with a misdemeanor offense will indeed be set free.  Now, close to 3,500 people who have been convicted under this law, and whose third strike was something as minor as stealing a slice of pizza, or writing a bad check – both of which are examples shown in the movie – will be set free.

Even though activist/director Sam Banning‘s first full-length film might have come after the fact, it is still something that should be seen, if only to further raise awareness of the gross injustices that are currently still taking place within the correctional sector of our (in)justice system.

Remaining Showtimes for Cruel and Unusual:

Thursday, Nov.15th 7:15pm (Roxie Theatre)

Reviews for Hanging Downtown and Without a Net, as well as trailers, after the jump

Hanging Downtown

Hanging Downtown is a 15-minute movie about the day in the life of a Boston street performer who makes his living escaping from rope and straightjacket whilst hanging upside down.  It’s well shot, has an interesting subject who marches to his own beat, and managed to keep entertained with a smile on my face throughout its short duration, and really, what more could you ask for in opening act for a circus movie.  Which brings me to…

Without a Net

Infectiously gleeful, are the first adjectives that come to mind after watching this character-driven doc on the low-budgeted circus existing illegally in an abandoned parking lot within the heart of Praça Onze, a slum of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

As far as behind-the-scenes documentaries go, this is one of the best that I have seen.  Director, Kelly J. Richardson makes the wise choice of keeping the focus on the performers, rather than delving into the politics of Rio, and/or the politics of the actual circus.  In doing so, she has captured the human spirit, along with its resilience against even the heaviest of odds.  Because of this circus, these ultra-poor participants – who are vastly children – have something to strive for, and can see the light at the end of their tough tough upbringing.

Helping to get lost within this circus world was some wonderful cinematography and lots of head-nodding Brazilian vibrant tunes.

Towards the end of the movie there is a montage highlighting the finished performance that these athletes have been working towards.  Being that I can’t see myself going to Brazil to see this circus up close anytime soon (mostly due to lack of funds) I can only hope that this final performance is presented in its entirety as a special feature upon its DVD release.

Remaining Showtimes for Hanging Downtown and Without a Net:

Wednesday Nov. 14th 7:15pm (Roxie Theatre)

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