Review: A Place For Paedophiles (2009, BBC)

Louis Theroux’s Documentary A Place For Paedophiles is a film made at Coalinga, a “halfway house” jail for Californian paedophiles who have served their primary sentences but who have been deemed unsafe for release back into society. Theroux wrote a companion article about the documentary on the BBC News website and you can read it here.

The article gives non-UK residents the summary of the programme without necessarily spoiling it. Louis Theroux has re-edited and extended his documentaries in the past, whether for television or retail DVD. Keeping A Place For Paedophiles down to a single hour is too short a running time to cover anything comprehensively about the inmates of this prison, their treatment or their crimes. This subject is screaming out for the same re-editing and extension given to his other shows and would result in a  completely different film.

Sadly, the TV cut felt very disjointed to watch. Footage of a Halloween party and a choir was, in my view, irrelevant. Ironically, the inmates themselves also complained about bias in the documentary so the less “poster boy” inmates rebelling against the therapeutic structure of Coalinga were then given a few more minutes.

From the broadcast cut of the film, whether in therapy or not, the majority of the featured inmates gave the impression of simply backsliding, minimising or talking down their crimes with a few exceptions. One stalking paedophile’s explanation of his abuse of 10 and 11 year old boys was “I’m gay,” and you’d hope that gay people wouldn’t accept that excuse for child abuse in their ongoing campaign for better rights.

So whilst the documentary would have benefited from a longer running time,  in its broadcast form A Place For Paedophiles is a missed opportunity. Going full circle from judging the inmates at the start, by the end of the TV cut I certainly had a bigger problem with the presentation and editing, than the subjects. Hopefully a future DVD release with at least another thirty minutes to an hour will give as well rounded a view of an offender as “Deliver Us From Evil” (2006).

I also hope that British broadcasters will show some programmes less skewed in favour of the offender during Child Abuse Awareness month next year, even if that will bring less media attention and potentially lower ratings. The BAFTA Award win for Chosen (2008) in the same month was a happy accident, concentrating as it does on three victims.


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