HotDocs ’24: The Strike

A harrowing tribute to the human spirit, The Strike covers a side of the prison system that most would disagree with yet has been thriving for multiple decades. (In fact, in many cases, the system has kept the same individual in solitary confinements for that amount of time.)

As the war aganist drugs escalated, even a liberal state like California saw the need to increase the amount of prison space in their penal system. This resulted in the creation of Pelican Island, a solitary confinement prison meant for the most dangerous of criminals. But often these inmates were not dangerous. Instead, they were simply victims of a labeling system that attempted to prevent prison incidents. With the prescience of gangs in these prisons, the officers in charge would send them to Pelican Island to prevent gang violence from escalating in the main population of California’s largest prisons. This resulted in even the most obscure logos and symbols being taken as gang affiliation and being moved to solitary confinement, without committing an overt act.

The result was many men who were so deprived of human interaction and hope that, through a complicated process, they launch the largest hunger strike in US history, one that spreads across the country from Pelican Bay. Inmates in vulnerable and open interviews share how the protest came together and their dehumanizing experience in solitary confinement, which takes this film from just an argumentative documentary to an expose on humanity and the power of unity. In doing so, they put the prison system on trial, exploring how they handled such a situation with unbelievable never-before-seen footage inside the prison and from the negotiations to end the hunger strike. The film also interviews the guards, wardens and even the prison negotiator who expose how much this system molded them and their approach to the people in their prisons. Its a much-watch film that I look forward to seeing in theatres. It deserves to be seen everywhere.

The Strike is playing at HotDocs ’24. For more information, click here.

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