Fe­male pris­on­ers get in the sad­dle

Los Angeles Times - - Movies -

In­for­mally sketched but deeply felt, Bradley Beesley’s doc­u­men­tary “Sweet­hearts of the Prison Rodeo” min­gles with the spir­ited cow­girl in­mates who com­pete in Ok­la­homa’s an­nual state pen­i­ten­tiary rodeo, a 70-year tra­di­tion of Wild West-style show­biz that be­gan to al­low fe­males to par­tic­i­pate only in 2006.

Al­though there’s a queasy tinge of glad­i­a­to­rial blood­lust in see­ing so­ci­ety’s pun­ished put them­selves in hooves’ and horns’ way for spec­ta­tor sport, the tears in one woman’s eyes as she de­scribes leav­ing the cor­rec­tional fa­cil­ity for an af­ter­noon of out­door train­ing speak won­ders. For these women — mostly drug of­fend­ers, many of them moth­ers — the chance to ride a bronc and pos­si­bly get hurt do­ing so (but maybe hold on longer than a com­pet­ing male pris­oner) is a trea­sured sliver of as­pi­ra­tional free­dom, a flung-open gate in their closed-cell lives.

Beesley may pre­fer emo­tional con­fes­sions, pa­role drama and jail-life phi­los­o­phiz­ing to ex­plor­ing the so­ci­o­log­i­cal un­der­pin­nings of Ok­la­homa’s fe­male in­car­cer­a­tion rate — the nation’s high­est — but the sym­pa­thy in his por­traits makes its mark. You’ll cer­tainly won­der which prospect is nervier: con­quer­ing a bull for a few sec­onds or liv­ing a de­railed life for as long as it takes.

— Robert Abele “Sweet­hearts of the Prison Rodeo.” MPAA rat­ing: 1 hour, 29 min­utes. Play­ing at the Down­town In­de­pen­dent, Los An­ge­les.

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