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Watch 7-Minute Preview of New Documentary on Black-Owned Detective Agency Run by Exonerated Men

Watch 7-Minute Preview of New Documentary on Black-Owned Detective Agency Run by Exonerated Men

An update to a documentary project I’ve been tracking on this blog for about 2 years, starting with its Kickstarter fundraising campaign in early 2013 – a campaign that I should add was successful, squeaking by its $30,000 goal, to raise just over $31,000.

A year and a half later, in the summer of 2014, it was one of 9 projects selected out of 560 submissions to receive the Tribeca Film Institute’s Gucci Tribeca Documentary Fund (a total of $150,000 in grants were given). 

Initially titled “Freedom Fighters,” the feature documentary is now titled “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 will follow 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 – itself a story of young men who served lengthy sentences after being accused of a crime they didn’t commit.

I love the idea (and I know some of you do as well, based on your comments in response to past posts on the film) – not only the real-life agency/initiative, but also the film that’s being made about it and the men who run it. In addition to this documentary, I think the story would make for wonderful material for a scripted work of fiction.

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.”

It looks like the film is closer to completion. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if it premieres at one of the early 2016 film festivals, like Sundance in January.

Watch a 7-minute preview of the film which is embedded below and then visit its website at http://www.trueconvictionfilm.com/ for more information.

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