Best Documentary

The Work – Film Review

The Work – Film Review by Frank L.

Directors: Jairus McLeary, Gethin Aldous


The Inside Circle Foundation is a non-profit making organisation which is based in Los Angeles. It works in prisons to help inmates to reduce prison violence and guide them, through healing, to allow for meaningful lives after release. This documentary concentrates on four days when three outsiders, who have volunteered, will join the Inside Circle session within the prison. The three volunteers are of varying ages, racial origin and background. But each has an unease about himself and the path his life has taken to date.

The “work” in the prison begins with a led group chanting session which builds to a crescendo. The mixture of the three volunteers and the inmates then break up into groups in which various discussions take place. These discussions become increasingly intense and in respect of each volunteer, a journey begins in relation to an event or events in his past which haunts him. This group activity leads to revelations from each of the volunteers of lesser and greater degree taking place. What is surprising is the intensity of the bodily contact of the various participants during the sessions. This is not a world for wimps.

What transpires is that there are similarities between the stories of the inmates and the volunteers. Incidents which happened early in these individuals lives remain latent but have a destructive influence on their psyche in adulthood. It appears one of the common threads is that many are fatherless sons in the sense that that their father was not present in their lives or if he was, he was a remote or dismissive figure. This failure in parenting appears in some cases to have existed for more than one generation.

What is shown may appear for European sensibilities to be American psychobabble but Inside Circle does obtain, with its unusual procedures, positive results. Mental well-being is an increasingly important topic in society. There are few signs that society is grappling successfully with its complexities. The strategies in this documentary are unorthodox. However all citizens (certainly male ones) are likely to find moments in the film which have relevance or at least sounds a chord. No one can be certain that their mental health is an absolute given. This documentary ought to be of interest to not only the ordinary individual but also those persons charged with the running of the health services and more importantly the prison services. It is worth seeing.




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