MIFF 2017: The Work

Twice a year, New Folsom Prison allows members of the public to enter its walls to participate in a four-day group therapy session with inmates facilitated by former prisoners and counsellors. Prisoners begin the four-day intensive with a pact to leave prison rules and gang politics at the door, and the outsider participants find themselves thrust into the world’s most intense psychotherapy session, where white, black, Asian and Native American gang members down their arms and lay bare their most intimate insecurities and anxieties to one another, hoping to find some kind of remedy for the failures, betrayals and mistakes that landed them in prison.

The Work promises a “rare look inside the cinder-block walls” of a prison, but once the outsiders start divulging their own stories it slowly becomes clear that what the film actually offers is a deep dive into the darkest recesses of the human mind — and a slow realisation that the blackest of those recesses might not belong to any of the prisoners.

A genuinely bracing work of up-close filmmaking, The Work will hit you square in the chest and send a shiver down your spine — and make you think about how precariously balanced the line between functioning member of society and lifelong criminal really is.

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