Screening and Venue:
Sunday, April 30th at 8:45pm at Regal Battery Park
Section: Documentary Competition
With the work of groups like The Innocence Project leading the expanded use of DNA evidence testing, men and women that have been unjustly jailed – and often on death row – are now afforded a second chance at freedom. But they still have to gain the attention of those who can investigate and litigate their cases.
And there are a lot of people that need that done.
Thankfully, three exonerated men have taken it upon themselves to help others who were in their same situation become free. Jamie Meltzer’s new documentary True Conviction follows the work of this Dallas, Texas detective agency as they seek to exonerate hand-picked, and hopefully honest, men to concentrate their energies on. And while doing so, these three men also deal with their own personal lives, and the demons that surround the combined decades they spent in prison.
Meeting at a local hangout, the formerly wrongfully convicted trio pour over letters written by convicts claiming innocence and seeking freedom. These scenes frame the people that the agency seeks to exonerate, and the production adopts a stylistic approach, including animation, to show the unfolding of the murders these men supposedly committed. But as they dig into these men’s past, it’s the lives of each of the ‘detectives’ that we also find out more about.
De facto leader Christopher Scott is raising his grandchild as his eldest son (and the child’s mother) go in and out the legal system, leaving Scott both despondent over the influence his imprisonment held on his children and invigorated to not allow that to happen to anyone else. Steven Phillips had a punishing transition after his imprisonment, and the drug abuse he has endured is a constant itch he fights daily to prevent. Johnnie Lindsey, the oldest of the crew, seems carefree, but with close to two decades of imprisonment behind him, his resolve to help others is only matched by a desire to now lead a happy life.
While the cases undertaken lead us through a system we already know can be rotten, even the most patient viewer will want to throw a chair at the screen. Truly, the idiocy and callousness that various case detectives, jurors, judges, witnesses, and so many others involved in these cases commit is exhausting, making the often selfless path that Christopher, Steven, and Johnnie have undertaken all the more essential.
The prison industrial complex is not new territory to create documentaries and think-pieces around. Heck, this Festival alone has shown dozens of such over the years, and recent documentaries like Ava DuVernay’s 13th have reinvigorated many of these conversations. But True Conviction has done something different here. With a feel like the A&E Network’s The First 48 but with a feature film documentary aesthetic, True Conviction seats you in the real world of the state with the highest amount of executions with a semi-”beat-the-clock” feel to discover the truth.
With what’s currently happening in Arkansas, with their wanting to rush death row executions to an 11-day span simply because their supply of lethal injections sedatives are due to expire, human life is left to an even lower regard. What True Conviction unlocks is hope for the future, providing a portrait of three men overcoming the worst of their past to fight for bona fide justice. It’s a must-see here at the Tribeca Film Festival and wherever else you find it in the future.
BaL Festival Rating: 5/5
Director: Jamie Meltzer
Producers: David Alvarado, Kate McLean, Michael May
Featuring: Christopher Scott, Steven Phillips, and Johnnie Lindsey
Runtime: 84 mins
The 2017 Tribeca Film Festival runs from April 19 – 30 in New York City
Follow Film & TV Editor Curtis Caesar John on Twitter (@MediaManCurt)