Sundance Film Review: ‘Pervert Park’

In this challenging yet open-minded documentary, a pair of Scandi directors give Florida sex offenders a chance to bare their souls.

William J. Fuery Jr., Tracy Hutchinson, James Broderick, James Turner, Patrick Naughton, William Heffernan, Don Sweeney, Nancy Morais.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4074304/

When the filmmakers of “Pervert Park” first showed up at Florida Justice Transitions, a St. Petersburg, Fla., trailer park inhabited exclusively by convicted sex offenders who can’t find lodging in most other parts of town, they weren’t expecting to come away with a documentary that would motivate audiences to reconsider their view of society’s most stigmatized criminals. The same could almost certainly be said for those who see the film: Most will go in with minds set about rapists and child molesters, only to find their assumptions challenged by this tough-to-watch, even-trickier-to-market pic’s daring approach and the courageous candor of its subjects.

Clearly, such a project finds itself pitched at a very select audience, limited to those free-thinking enough to listen to so-called “sexual predators,” people who’ve abused their own place in society as they describe the difficulties they now experience as outcasts after violating the fundamental trust citizens put in one another — a trust that involves respecting the intimacy boundaries of strangers and kin. These are the “baby rapers,” as one paroled sex offender puts it, pushing back against the label such criminals get in prison, where their kind are frequently abused by other inmates.

Back on the outside, the world can be equally harsh. In Florida, firm sex-predator laws stipulate that offenders cannot live within 1,000 feet of places where children regularly congregate. Once released, many cannot find employment with that designation permanently on their record; all must register their place of residence at least twice a year, so other citizens can steer clear. Such strict restrictions exist out of society’s collective fear that sex offenders will strike again, though the movie argues that recidivism is far lower for them (about 5%) than nearly all other classes of crime.

The problem, or so Scandi filmmaking couple Frida and Lasse Barkfors would have us contemplate, is that the sex-offender label applies to a wide and surprisingly varied list of crimes, ranging from flashing to producing child pornography, and the label doesn’t distinguish between a serial offender and, say, the 22-year-old seen here, who was arrested in a police sting designed to entrap men willing to consider sex with a minor (whereas, the film points out, the vast majority of such crimes are conducted within families over many years).

While everyone here takes responsibility for his or her actions, they also have an uncomfortable tendency to rationalize their crimes. Many of the offenders interviewed were themselves molested as children. The most heartbreaking of the testimonies comes from Tracy Hutchinson, a mother who, after having been raped by her father while still in the crib, spiraled into a series of unhealthy sexual relationships. In a devastating open interview, she describes how she got an abortion at age 11 and, years later, seduced her own son, who in turn molested a 3-year-old boy.

In providing room for such stories from nearly a dozen of the residents at Palace Mobile Home Park (an “adult community” operated by Florida Justice Transitions), the documentary broadens well beyond a portrait of this particular facility to address the underlying causes of these crimes and to question how society might more constructively deal with the issues, where offering counseling to abuse victims becomes as important as, if not more so than, persecuting their abusers.

In that respect, the unflinching project is different from other fearless films on the subject, such as Matthias Bittner’s “Not in My Backyard,” which focuses on sex offenders reduced to living beneath a Miami causeway because no traditional neighborhood would have them. In both cases, it took European filmmakers curious enough to examine how America deals with the issue to touch the taboo subject. Also available in an hourlong TV cut, “Pervert Park” won a special jury award at Sundance, acknowledging the film’s impact — one that demands a tough skin and an open mind.

Sundance Film Review: 'Pervert Park'

Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (World Cinema — competing), Jan. 28, 2015. (Also in International Documentary Festival Amsterdam.) Running time: 77 MIN.

Production: (Documentary — Sweden-Denmark) A De Andrea, Final Cut for Real presentation, supported by Swedish Film Institute, in collaboration with Film i Skane, SVT, DR, NRK, VG TV. (International sales: DR, Copenhagen.) Produced by Frida Barkfors, Anne Kohncke.

Crew: Directed by Frida Barkfors, Lasse Barkfors. Camera (color, HD), Lasse Barkfors; editors, Signe Rebekka Kaufmann, Lasse Barkfors; music, Julian Winding; sound designer, Frank Molgaard Knudsen.

With: William J. Fuery Jr., Tracy Hutchinson, James Broderick, James Turner, Patrick Naughton, William Heffernan, Don Sweeney, Nancy Morais.

More Film

  • Durban Film Festival 2019 / Copyright

    South African Creatives Grapple Over Copyright Amendment Bill

    DURBAN–The South African government is planning to update its four-decade-old copyright legislation, but what that means for filmmakers was up for debate during a contentious and often heated session at the Durban FilmMart this week. While the Copyright Amendment Bill awaits the signature of President Cyril Ramaphosa, industry stakeholders remain divided over how the proposed [...]

  • 'The Lion King' Ruling Box Office

    'The Lion King' Ruling Box Office With Dazzling Debut at $180 Million

    Disney’s “The Lion King” has jolted the North American box office back to life with an opening weekend in the $180 million range, estimates showed Saturday. “The Lion King” will record the second-best opening of 2019 — and could replace “Incredibles 2,” which launched last year with $182.7 million, as the ninth biggest North American [...]

  • 'Tomb Raider' Star Simon Yam in

    'Tomb Raider' Star Simon Yam in Hospital After Stabbing

    Hugely popular Hong Kong actor, Simon Yam was stabbed while on stage Saturday at a presentation in Zhongshan, Guangdong province in southern China. He is in hospital recovering. The incident happened at the opening of a branch of the Beijing Easyhome building materials company, where Yam was a guest. A man was seen rushing on [...]

  • Brazilian President Jair Bolosnaro attends the

    Bolsonaro Threatens Brazil’s Central Film Fund with Censorship or Closure

    In typical shoot-from-the-hip remarks, Brazil’s far-right president Jair Bolsonaro has declared that Ancine, Brazil’s powerful state-backed federal film agency, should accept “filters”or face closure. “If it can’t have a filter, we’ll close Ancine, or privatize it,” Bolsonaro added, attacking Ancine, which plows some $300 million a year into Brazil’s film and TV industries, for supporting [...]


    Director Sara Gouveia on ‘Looking At Resilience Through Art’

    DURBAN–The Mapiko dance of Mozambique’s indigenous Makonde people was long used as a tool for social commentary. But during the colonial era it became an act of political resistance, prompting the Portuguese to stamp it out during Mozambique’s 10-year war for independence. Decades later, the art has been revived as a celebration of freedom. For [...]

  • Don Edkins

    Documentary Filmmaker Don Edkins on ‘Creating an African Voice’ 

    DURBAN–For the 10th Durban FilmMart (DFM), the industry program of the Durban Intl. Film Festival, a new strand was created to look at the unique challenges and opportunities facing documentary filmmakers in Africa. The two-day program, Durban Does Docs, offers a series of conversations, seminars and workshops with an intensive focus on the aesthetics, funding, distribution [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content