Do sex offenders get a bad rap? Would you want a sex offender as a neighbor, around your children? These questions are seemingly easy to answer. When someone gets convicted of a sex offense, they become defined by the crime by law and by society; their motivations are left unquestioned due to the devastating nature of the crime. “Pervert Park” offers a fresh and notably controversial perspective on the subject, as it explores the humanity of the offenders in question. Documentarians Frida and Lasse Barkfors take us into the Florida Justice Transitions, a private community that houses over one hundred sex offenders.
Founded by Nancy Morais, mother of a convicted sex offender, the private institution provides homes for those who couldn’t find a place to live after they were convicted. The residents, both men and women, have developed a tightknit community, bonded by their similar situations as they learn to cope with the crimes they have committed and attempt to move on with their lives.
While the residents seem optimistic about their future, they still carry the shame of their crimes with them whenever they leave their community, and frequently deal with harassment by strangers who know about their past misdeed. As we follow residents through their daily lives, we are given insight into their dark pasts and how they became the people they are today.
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Through tense interviews with the residents, some telling their stories for the first time, it becomes apparent that lot of them were victims themselves. Many of the residents suffered physical and sexual abuse as children, or dealt with addiction, dysfunctional family environments, and even entrapment by the law.
Don Sweeney, a dedicated therapist who previously treated victims of sexual offenders, works with each of the residents to help them transition back into society, and work toward an understanding of what brings these people to commit such heinous acts. Through him, we see how much the residents have changed for the better. One of the subjects, William, actually had to learn to cry again, because his parents didn’t allow crying, and would abuse him when he couldn’t help it. Another resident battles with self-esteem issues that caused him to have deep rooted hatred for women.
These psychological issues have maintained a longtime impact on the residents, and it wasn’t until Sweeney came into the picture that they were able to confront their issues. The residents take full responsibility of their actions and express plenty of regret over their convictions. But it was only through therapy that they were finally able to come to terms with their past and build towards a better future. Sweeney and the residents use their stories as cautionary tales in order to break down the demonization of sex offenders and bring awareness to the lack of psychological evaluation when it comes to convicting them.
Beautifully shot by Barkfors, the movie offers ample reminders of the residents’ humanity. The filmmakers never venture too far away from the area, choosing to remain in the Florida Justice Transitions, to put the audience in the shoes of the residents. Edited with a consistently engaging pace, each resident has a chance to tell their story, which unfold against images of their daily lives: they practice music, play video games, and congregate for group meetings. The camera work maintains an intimate style as we explore the homes of the residents and gain new perspectives on their identities.
Each of thee stories is broken up into pieces, with climaxes arriving at different points throughout. The emotionally raw interviews contain just enough details to provide a sense of the subjects’ unsettling backstories without going into the graphic details of their misdeeds. Offender Tracy Hutchinson’s story is by far the most heartwrenching of the bunch, as she struggles to keep control of her emotions while recalling her crime.
With a solid execution of storytelling, combined with a powerful statement about how we perceive sex offenders, “Pervert Park” excels as a documentary that explores not only what it takes to be human, but also why psychological evaluations could be crucial in understanding the forces that bring human to commit crimes in the first place.
“Pervert Park” premiered last week at the Sundance Film Festival. It is currently seeking U.S. distribution.