A Hard Straight

Goro Toshima's "A Hard Straight" offers an up-close look at the temptations and frustrations faced by three parolees as they grapple with challenges of life in the outside world after long prison terms. Pic imposes arresting dramatic structure on day-to-day struggles of its characters, and remains scrupulously even-handed while questioning how much each ex-convict is responsible for his or her own plight.

Goro Toshima’s “A Hard Straight” offers an up-close look at the temptations and frustrations faced by three parolees as they grapple with challenges of life in the outside world after long prison terms. Pic imposes arresting dramatic structure on day-to-day struggles of its characters, and remains scrupulously even-handed while questioning how much each ex-convict is responsible for his or her own plight. It won’t be hard for docu to gain global fest and tube exposure

Goro begins by citing a grim statistic: “In California, over 50 percent of parolees return to prison within three months of their release.” Of course, that figure may skewed by individuals like Aaron Shepard, who admits he has made several return trips to San Quentin for repeated parole violations. His problem? As he tells it, he’s chronically in the wrong place — San Francisco’s Tenderloin district — at the wrong time. Vet gang-banger Richard “Smiley” Martinez makes pretty much the same mistake, drifting back to the environment where he got into trouble in the first place. At the end, only Regina Allen, a check forger and substance abuser, appears sufficiently self-directed to remain on straight-and-narrow path.

A Hard Straight

Production: An Independent Television Service presentation of a One Arms Prods. production. Produced by Lindsay Sablosky, Goro Toshima. Directed by Goro Toshima.

Crew: Camera (color, DV), Toshima; editor, Kim Roberts; sound, Will Z. Avala. Reviewed on videocassette, Houston, March 31, 2004. (In South by Southwest Film Festival -- competing.) Running time: 74 MIN.

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