Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Jason goes to SFIFF--Day 12

Now we're really heading down the final stretch.

Two more movies last night, starting with the French-Canadian Oscar submission INCENDIES. It's a very well constructed, overly melodramatic piece of excess. Twins Jeanne and Simon Marwan are given instructions in their mother's last will and testament. Their previously unknown father and brother are still alive, and her will instructs them to go to Unnamed-istan (somewhere in the Middle East), find them, and deliver a letter to each of them. Simon refuses, but Jeanne is game. And while she's there she learns horrifying things about her mother's past. How she barely escaped the violence of a civil war, how she assassinated a right-wing militant leader. How she was tortured in prison. And ultimately the complex web results in a bizarre, unbelievable climactic reveal. It's an odd movie, while I was in it I was drawn in by the power of the highly accomplished cinema. As soon as it was over and the applause died down I realized exactly how absurdly overblown the melodrama was. I don’t know, maybe your mileage will vary, but I just couldn't swallow that story taking itself so earnestly.

And then I saw the documentary I've been hearing everyone in the festival lounge talking about (other than HOT COFFEE), CRIME AFTER CRIME. Let me start by saying only twice in my life have I jumped to my feet and given a film a standing ovation without first checking to see if anyone else was standing. The first was the documentary THE RITCHIE BOYS at Cinequest in 2005, and of course this was the second. The case of Deborah Peagler is so compelling that as long as you laid out the facts, put her on screen, and the camera was at least close to in focus, you'd have a good documentary. So it's just a bonus that director Yoav Potash (FOOD STAMPED from this year's Indiefest) also knows what he's doing. Deborah was in an abusive relationship with a man who forced her into prostitution back in the 80's. She conspired with some local gang members to beat him up so he'd leave her alone. Well, they beat him a little too hard and killed him. Sure, she bears some responsibility, but the prosecution at the time went for the death penalty with a (very weak) case that she conspired in cold blood to collect his insurance money. At the time, evidence of abuse wasn't presented at trial (although the D.A. knew about it), and they intimidated her into a plea of first degree murder with a sentence of 25 years to life (as opposed to a more appropriate manslaughter charge, which would've carried at a maximum 6 years). Some 20 years later, California became the first (and still only) state to pass a law allowing women to reopen their cases if they were victims of abuse and that abuse had some bearing on their crime. Seems like her case is clear cut, right? Whatever she did, she's more than paid for it, and you just have to let justice work it out. Well, that's what pro bono team Joshua Safran and Nadia Costa thought. What they didn't count on was a parole board with little interest in hearing this new evidence. A court system with little interest in (or perhaps even understanding of) the new law, and especially an Los Angeles D.A. office that seems politically motivated to avoid the embarrassment (and possible civil action) of admitting to decades of wrongful imprisonment. The estimated 6 month pro bono project becomes 5 years, as parole, appeals, etc. are denied. Most disheartening is a written deal with the D.A.'s office that is then withdrawn.

You know, I could say more but I think I've said enough. Check out the movie when it comes out (should be August in the Bay Area), and check out the movie website here to learn more, and especially click on The Campaign link to find out what you can do to help other women in similar circumstances.

Total Running Time: 223 minutes
My Total Minutes: 235,851

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