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Upstate Purgatory (2016)

A searing portrait of four prisoners trying to escape the devastation of their past.


Lee Phillips


Lee Phillips
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Credited cast:
Lee Phillips Lee Phillips ... Narrator


A searing portrait of four prisoners trying to escape the devastation of their past.

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Release Date:

19 November 2016 (UK) See more »

Filming Locations:

Albany, New York, USA

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User Reviews

A very 'straight' documentary but really hits the heart
19 November 2016 | by bob the mooSee all my reviews

This is an odd find in an online short film, because it feels incredibly professional and expensive – with credits which suggest the use of a helicopter for some of the opening scenes. The reason for this is perhaps that this short was taken from the footage for a much bigger project for national television. Apparently this footage didn't make the cut, but the director had these characters lingering with him, so in a period of enforced downtime from shooting, he found them in the edit and made this short film.

One can see why the people stuck in his mind. They are a mix of the vicious and the self-destructive, but what combines them all is their reflection on who they are and what is next. The film draws them together with the idea of them all in a purgatory state where they await judgement and whatever lies beyond. This is a nice device, but what makes the film work is the 4 people selected. Their self- awareness and yet inability to progress from that point is fascinating and very recognizable for me (in terms of knowing your self but not being able to change it – not killing people). The people really make a mark and the film lets them.

The narration doesn't add more than a frame, which is a wise move, as it allows the people to speak and set the tone. It is still a very 'straight' documentary in terms of what it does, and it is very televisual which I didn't care for, but in the end it has a real kick to the emotions, and it is this that works well.

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