Gilbey on Film: cry freedom

From the Human Rights Watch film festival: the terrible fate of the Angola 3.

The 14th Human Rights Watch International Film Festival runs until Friday, and there are tickets still available for the European premiere this week of one of the festival's highlights. In the Land of the Free... is a chastening documentary about Herman Wallace, Albert Woodfox and Robert King, known collectively as the Angola 3 after the prison where they have spent, between them, almost a century in solitary confinement for a murder that all evidence suggests they did not commit.

The victim was a prison guard, Brent Miller, who in 1972 was stabbed 32 times inside Angola, the Louisiana state penitentiary. Wallace and Woodfox were already in prison for other offences, and were placed at the scene of the crime by an eyewitness who later turned out to be not only legally blind and beset by mental problems, but to have been promised by the authorities a weekly carton of cigarettes, as well as early release, in exchange for testifying. The testimony of that witness became the lynchpin of the prosecution case; for those determined to prolong the men's incarceration, it still is.

But if Wallace and Woodfox did not kill Brent Miller, why were they fingered for the crime? The probable answer lies in their allegiance to a prison arm of the Black Panther Party established shortly before the murder. So comprehensive was the campaign to crush the Panthers that Miller's murder was declared a conspiracy. That's where Robert King came in -- literally. Despite having been serving time in another prison 150 miles away, King was brought to Angola and consigned to solitary along with Wallace and Woodfox. Well, he was an active member of the Black Panthers, and must therefore have been instrumental in the conspiracy. During his first year at Angola, he was falsely convicted of murdering another prisoner. At his trial, where the jury was exclusively white and the witnesses wildly unreliable, King's mouth was sealed with duct tape.

If there is a point at which a typical viewer of In the Land of the Free... will cry out, "What next?" then that is probably it. The film can only be watched in a state of horrified incredulity. King was released in 2001, but Wallace and Woodfox are currently approaching their 38th consecutive year of being held in solitary at Louisiana state penitentiary. I say consecutive, but as the film points out, there have been occasional interruptions in the prisoners' routine. These breaks, which take place in an area of the prison known as "the dungeon", tend to discredit the idea that a change is as good as a rest.

It's fortunate that Wallace and Woodfox have some effective cheerleaders on their side. One was the late Anita Roddick, who campaigned for the men's release; the film is dedicated to her. Another is King, who has managed against the odds to hold on to his sanity. The director Vadim Jean should now be included alongside the campaigners. His film is blunt, lucid and angry. Celebrity narration is present and correct -- in this case, Samuel L Jackson -- but the most potent charge comes from two other men heard in voice only: Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox, speaking to us down an imperfect prison phone-line.

"In the Land of the Free..." screens in the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival on 24 and 25 March, followed by panel discussions, before going on release on 26 March. Details here.

Ryan Gilbey blogs every Tuesday for Cultural Capital. He is also the New Statesman's film critic.

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards.

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Why does food taste better when we Instagram it?

Delay leads to increased pleasure when you set up a perfect shot of your dinner.

Been on holiday? Take any snaps? Of course you did – but if you’re anything like me, your friends and family didn’t make it into many of them. Frankly, I can only hope that Mr Whippy and I will still be mates in sixty years, because I’m going to have an awful lot of pictures of him to look back on.

Once a decidedly niche pursuit, photographing food is now almost as popular as eating it, and if you thought that the habit was annoying at home, it is even worse when it intrudes on the sacred peace of a holiday. Buy an ice cream and you’ll find yourself alone with a cone as your companion rushes across a four-lane highway to capture his or hers against the azure sea. Reach for a chip before the bowl has been immortalised on social media and get your hand smacked for your trouble.

It’s a trend that sucks the joy out of every meal – unless, that is, you’re the one behind the camera. A new study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests that taking pictures of food enhances our pleasure in it. Diners at the food court of a farmers’ market in Philadelphia were asked either to photograph their meal or to eat “as you normally would”, then were questioned about how they found it. Those in the photography group reported that not only did they enjoy their meal more, but they were “significantly more immersed in the experience” of eating it.

This backs up evidence from previous studies, including one from this year in the Journal of Consumer Marketing, which found that participants who had been asked to photograph a red velvet cake – that bleeding behemoth of American overindulgence – later rated it as significantly tastier than those who had not.

Interestingly, taking a picture of a fruit salad had no effect on its perceived charms, but “when descriptive social norms regarding healthy eating [were] made salient”, photographing these healthier foods did lead to greater enjoyment. In other words, if you see lots of glossy, beautifully lit pictures of chia seed pudding on social media, you are more likely to believe that it’s edible, despite all the evidence to the contrary.
This may seem puzzling. After all, surely anything tastes better fresh from the kitchen rather than a protracted glamour shoot – runny yolks carefully split to capture that golden ooze, strips of bacon arranged just so atop plump hemispheres of avocado, pillowy burger buns posed to give a glimpse of meat beneath. It is hardly surprising that 95 million posts on Instagram, the photo-sharing site, proudly bear the hashtag #foodporn.

However, it is this delay that is apparently responsible for the increase in pleasure: the act of rearranging that parsley garnish, or moving the plate closer to the light, increases our anticipation of what we are about to eat, forcing us to consider how delicious it looks even as we forbid ourselves to take a bite until the perfect shot is in the bag. You could no doubt achieve the same heightened sense of satisfaction by saying grace before tucking in, but you would lose the gratification that comes from imagining other people ogling your grilled Ibizan sardines as they tuck in to an egg mayonnaise at their desk.

Bear in mind, though, that the food that is most successful on Instagram often has a freakish quality – lurid, rainbow-coloured bagel-croissant hybrids that look like something out of Frankenstein’s bakery are particularly popular at the moment – which may lead to some unwise menu choices in pursuit of online acclaim.

On the plus side, if a diet of giant burgers and salted-caramel lattes leaves you feeling queasy, take heart: if there is one thing that social media likes more than #avotoast, it is embarrassing oversharing. After a week of sickening ice-cream shots, a sickbed selfie is guaranteed to cheer up the rest of us. 

Felicity Cloake is the New Statesman’s food columnist. Her latest book is The A-Z of Eating: a Flavour Map for Adventurous Cooks.

This article first appeared in the 25 August 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron: the legacy of a loser