An update to a documentary project we've been tracking on this blog for about 4 years now, starting with its Kickstarter fundraising campaign in early 2013 - a campaign that was successful, squeaking by its $30,000 goal, to raise just over $31,000.
We now know that the film is now set to make its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival which kicks off today, April 19, running through the 29th.
Initially titled "Freedom Fighters," the feature documentary is now officially called "True Conviction," and its tagline reads: "There's a new detective agency in Dallas, Texas, started by a group of exonerated men who have all spent decades in prison... for crimes they did not commit."
They call themselves the Freedom Fighters (hence the film's initial title), and have tasked themselves with the job of freeing those who are wrongly serving sentences in prison for crimes they didn't commit.
Director Jamie Meltzer's character-driven documentary follows these change-makers as they rebuild their lives and families, learn to investigate cases, work to support each other, and campaign to fix the criminal justice system. The film follows them as they learn the ropes of investigation - following leads, tracking down witnesses and finding out what kind of evidence will make a strong case in court - on their first cases.
Meltzer's film is certainly timely and topical, especially in light of ongoing conversations about the disproportionately high number of black men in prison, measures like stop-and-frisk, #BlackLivesMatter, and the release of "The Central Park Five" documentary 5 years ago - itself a story of young men who served lengthy sentences after being accused of a crime they didn't commit.
We here at S&A - and many of you as well, based on your comments in response to past posts on the film - have been looking forward to this one, so we're glad it's finally done and ready to be seen after such a lengthy journey. In addition to this documentary, the story would make for wonderful material for a scripted feature film.
The Freedom Fighters, whose own wrongful convictions inspired them to create their detective agency, are:
- Christopher Scott was released from prison after serving 13 years of a life sentence for a murder he didn’t commit. This sounds like a nightmare, but it’s more common than you might think. 32 people like Chris have been exonerated in Dallas. Most of them are black men who were locked up in their youth and emerged in middle age looking for a way to make sense of what happened. One day at an exoneree support group meeting, an idea came to Chris: exonerees could become detectives, find other wrongfully convicted people sitting in prison, investigate their cases and prove their innocence. "I'm the go-getter, I'm the one that sets the standards, because I'm a leader - I lead by example." Chris was recently named Texan of the Year by the Dallas Morning News.
- Johnnie Lindsey, the most dapper member of the Freedom Fighters (Chris calls him “laid back… a real smooth operator.”), spent 26 years in prison for a sexual assault he didn't commit. As calm, cool, and collected as he is, Johnnie can get fired-up about all the wrongful convictions in Texas: “Something’s wrong, something's happening in Texas… they robbed us out of our lives - 26 years of my life… I was robbed.”
- Billy Smith was released in 2006 after spending two decades behind bars, after being wrongly identified and convicted for aggravated sexual assault. He knew his case had DNA evidence but it wasn’t until 2001, 15 years into his sentence, that prisoners could request DNA tests. Billy is still overcome with emotion at times when he looks at his front door, sees the doorknob on the inside, and realizes he can turn that knob and walk out anytime he wants to go. “There’s no bars there, no guards walking past my door. I can go out when I want to go out... I'm free.”
"True Conviction" is a co-production of ITVS and the recipient of a Sundance Institute grant and a MacArthur grant. It's world premiere screening at Tribeca takes place tomorrow, April 20, at 8:45PM; there'll be 4 more screenings at the festival after that. Click here for ticket info.
Watch a 7-minute preview of the film which is embedded below: