The supposed subject of this slight documentary is Burmese comedian Zarganar, a man of rare courage and unflagging humility. One of the first to speak out against his government and a supporter of the 2007 ‘Saffron Revolution’, Zarganar, a former dentist whose name means ‘tweezers’, has been in and out of prison his entire life, culminating in his current 59-year sentence for treason. The opening section of the film, consisting largely of interviews with the comic shortly before his incarceration, are very gripping, a stark portrait of a wise and wakeful man living without fear, committed to his cause and ready to face the consequences. As a 20-minute short, it would be perfect. But director Rex Bloomstein is unwilling to leave it there. Recruiting German comedian Michael Mittermeier as frontman and producer, Bloomstein heads back to Rangoon looking for news of Zarganar, hoping to interview those who knew him, to visit his old haunts and the prison where he resides.
As a tribute to a heroic crusader, ‘This Prison…’ is heartfelt. But Bloomstein can’t disguise the fact that there isn’t a film here: with Zarganar’s family and friends warned to stay away, we’re left with an hour of Mittermeier wandering around Burma, looking alternately frightened and morose, waxing lyrical about his absent inspiration. If his film helps to spread word about Zarganar’s incarceration, Bloomstein’s efforts will be justified. But as cinema, this is irreparably flawed.