With prison reform and abolition hot – and necessary – topics today, Antony Spina’s short film imagines a coldly efficient worst case scenario. As the United States prison system reaches capacity, an experimental combination of drugs and therapy yields incredible results to turn offenders into quiet, placid members of society. The United Kingdom and Brazil are quick to import this groundbreaking system, but no one questions that perhaps these humans have become just a bit unhuman. The Programme looks at a carceral system pushed to the brink and choosing further violence rather than reform. 

The film’s visual style is workmanlike. Styled after a talking heads documentary, the routine of news report, officer and scientist interview, and then prisoner interview takes the audience through the Programme’s wide spread and rapid results. Attention is engaged through the knowledge that soon, something will go wrong. And when the rhythm is interrupted at the end, intercut with calm press releases, the implications are brought to the fore. There is no subtlety to be found in this 35 minute run time – and none necessary. 

One distractingly exaggerated regional American accent aside, The Programme’s main weakness is its jump to the most blatant evil. However, this removal of interim rights violations is the only way to look at the “after effects” within the film’s short run time. The Programme does not directly address high incarceration rates, but the rush it portrays to “treat” the greatest number of people with dubiously consensual behavioural modification feels unsettlingly truthful. Instead of looking at why prisons create unhealthy and dangerous environments, or questioning the carceral system in its entirety, why not provide a quick fix now and an inevitable counter-fix later?

The Programme takes a sledgehammer to the nuanced issues of incarceration and rehabilitation, but it feels all-too-believable in today’s polarised dialogues. 

RATING: 3/5


INFORMATION

CAST: Roland Stone, Bernado LaRocque, Stuart Walker, Alexander Mandrides, Cheryl Burniston

DIRECTOR: Antony Spina

WRITER: Antony Spina

SYNOPSIS: Prison systems around the western world are being pushed to the brink in this documentary-esque sci-fi short film, and the solution may be efficient but morally bankrupt.