A Hard Name

Alan Zweig’s A Hard Name
Saturday, April 24 at 7:00 PM
Sunday April 25 at 7:00 PM
Wednesday, April 28 at 7:00 PM
Thursday, April 29 at 7:00 PM
Winnipeg Cinematheque

Zweig’s documentary A Hard Name is about eight middle-aged convicts who are attempting to stay out of prison for the first time in their lives. Through interviews we find out about their experiences on the inside and how they are coping with life on the outside. This documentary allows us to take a deep look into the lives of recovering compulsive criminals, a lens that most of us have never looked through before.

Although this film is not explicitly political, it implicitly poses questions about the effectiveness of our current penal system and it implicitly addresses some of the potential causes of criminal behaviour. One of the more memorable subjects recalls stabbing Clifford Olson 21 times before Olson became a famous serial killer, known for killing eight youths. He stabbed Olson in order to do what he thought was the right thing – since Olson was in prison on child abduction charges – and he stabbed him in obtain respect from his peers. When Olson didn’t die, he tried stabbing him a few more times in the kidneys…Olson just wouldn’t die.

Due to Zweig’s extremely laid back style and his deep sense of humanity, his subjects open up to him and reveal stories about their past. This allows Zweig to find a deeper connection between these convicts, namely, a history of childhood abuse (physical, emotional, and sexual), abandonment and mistreatment from those in positions of authority. It could easily be conjectured that these factors played a key role in developing a hatred and mistrust of authority, a lack of self worth and a rejection of the social code in general.

I personally enjoy Zweig’s desire to insert himself into his films, however, it is easy to see how one might find this distracting. In any case, Zweig has built tremendous trust with his subjects which allowed them to speak openly and, in fact, it allowed them to openly confront their horrific pasts on screen.

The fact that this subject matter is inherently depressing should not turn you off of seeing this engaging doc.

– Clint Enns


From Uptown Magazine April 22, 2010:

Hard time, hard lessons
A Hard Name is an affecting and illuminating doc about people dealing with criminal pasts

Does prison really scare people straight?

It’s clear that the ex-con subjects of this documentary never want to go back. One says his nightmare is that he somehow screws up and winds up behind bars again; he doesn’t think he could possibly endure it.

Yet that’s not what motivated him to straighten out his life. It wasn’t prison, he declares. It wasn’t the punishment. It was him — he changed. He matured. And he made a choice.

A Hard Name is an affecting, moving documentary featuring several men and two women who speak of their criminal pasts and respective experiences as convicts. It’s sobering and thought-provoking to hear their personal stories of hard times and hard lessons.

One only has to consider the terror in these people’s faces and words to know how traumatic the prison experience must be. So many convicts are simply terrified, this film’s subjects say — and furthermore, they ought to be. These former prisoners make clear that surviving prison is a combination of luck and walking on eggshells.

The constant fear of being possibly killed drives some men to unbelievable lengths. Prisoners, we’re told, will smuggle knives and straight razors into prison by hiding them in their rectums.

One subject is an almost inconceivably hard-willed man, who managed to get a prison transfer after administering multiple self-inflicted wounds. Yet he, too, was ultimately moved to change by “learning the hard way” the effects of his crimes on his victims — when they took the stand against him.

I can’t live that way anymore, says another man. It’s wrong. For others, the matter is of a more practical nature. One subject says, the way he figured, he had three choices: commit suicide, spend life in prison or turn his life around. He chose the last.

For that matter, says one woman, it’s not that easy being a criminal. It’s work. You have to constantly look over your shoulder. But it can also be exciting, says the other — selling drugs and making fast money. And if it could be guaranteed she’d never go to jail again? Absolutely she’d commit crimes again, says the first.

A Hard Name has fascinating subjects who share extraordinarily valuable experience and insight. Nonetheless, the documentary limits itself by not letting us see prison life for ourselves. And its exclusivity of approach — it consists of nothing but interviews — makes it feel more like an installment of The Passionate Eye.

Not that that hampers the power of its thematic content, however. Schools could save money on hiring motivational speakers to warn kids away from crime; they could simply run this film instead.

Perhaps the greatest value of A Hard Name is how it humanizes its subjects. People can and do learn: they are capable of turning their lives around. They are not merely defined by certain actions from their pasts. And, if it’s any consolation to the vengeful, it’s clear their own consciences may never forgive them.

– Kenton Smith


~ by cineflyer on April 26, 2010.

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