Sweethearts Of The Prison Rodeo (tbc)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner27/10/2009

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 90 mins

Heartwarming, (sort of) competition-based documentary that's extremely engaging and powerfully emotional, but also manages to slip in some important social commentary.

What's it all about?
Directed by Bradley Beesley, Sweethearts of the Prison Rodeo is a documentary about the prison rodeo at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary, billed as the only behind-the-walls rodeo in the world. Since 2006, the rodeo has allowed women to compete, so the film follows a group of female inmates (and male inmate Danny Liles) as they prepare to take part in the 2007 rodeo.

The would-be competitors include: beautiful Crystal Herrington, who looks forward to seeing her young son; Brandy ‘Foxie’ Witte, who hasn't seen her family for twelve years and hires a private detective to find them; older inmate Rhonda Buffalo; and younger inmate Jamie Brooks, whose parole hearing comes up during her training. Meanwhile, each of the women delivers a series of candid interviews about why they're in prison and their hopes for the future.

The Good
Although the dangerous-looking rodeo sequences form the climax of the film, there's very little in the way of an actual competition element (as in, say, Spellbound or Air Guitar Nation), beyond some minor rivalry with the male inmates. Instead, the film focuses on the prisoners themselves, which leads to some incredibly moving scenes – one reunion scene in particular will have you in floods of tears, while another inmate's punishment for receiving stolen lipstick seems hugely unfair.

The Great
The women (and Liles) are remarkably frank and surprisingly cheerful about how they ended up in prison – it quickly becomes clear that Oklahoma has a huge crystal meth problem, since many of the women were jailed for their involvement in meth production. This is backed up by Beesley (an Oklahoma filmmaker who's made other documentaries about his home state), along with several other disturbing facts, such as the revelation that Oklahoma has one of the highest female incarceration rates in the country or that the state governor often ignores the recommendations of his parole boards.

Worth seeing?
In short, Sweethearts of the Prison Rodeo is an emotionally engaging documentary with likeable characters, thrilling rodeo scenes and some thought-provoking social commentary. Highly recommended.

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Sweethearts Of The Prison Rodeo (tbc)
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Content updated: 20/10/2017 06:06

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