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True Conviction

Synopsis

There's a new detective agency in Dallas, Texas, started by a group of exonerated men with decades in prison served between them.

Chris Scott was sitting in a support group meeting for men all bound together by the painful experience of wasting years in prison for crimes they didn't commit, when he was struck by a realization: there was a dream team right in front of him, ready to step into action. He and his friends had first-hand knowledge of how wrongful convictions happen. Together, they could start an investigative unit, a detective agency of sorts, to look for innocent people still incarcerated. They would draw from what they knew, as well as from the expertise of the attorneys who helped get them out of prison. Calling themselves the "Freedom Fighters," their goal would be to free the wrongly accused who are still behind bars.

This 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.

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The Filmmakers

Jamie Meltzer Director

Jamie Meltzer's feature documentary films have been broadcast nationally on PBS and have screened at numerous film festivals worldwide. His current documentary project, TRUE CONVICTION (in post-production), is a co-production of ITVS and the recipient of a Sundance Institute grant and a MacArthur grant. INFORMANT (2012), about a revolutionary activist turned FBI informant, was released in theaters in the US and Canada in Fall 2013 by Music Box Films and KinoSmith. Previous films include: OFF THE CHARTS: THE SONG-POEM STORY (Independent Lens, 2003), about the shadowy world of song-poems, WELCOME TO NOLLYWOOD (PBS Broadcast, 2007), an investigation into the wildly successful Nigerian movie industry, and LA CAMINATA (2009), a short film about a small town in Mexico that runs a simulated border crossing as a tourist attraction. He teaches in the M.F.A. Program in Documentary Film and Video at Stanford University.

David Alvarado Producer

David Alvarado is a documentary filmmaker with a passion for science, philosophy, and human rights. His feature documentary THE IMMORTALISTS premiered at SXSW in 2014. He operates Structure Films, a start-up documentary film company in New York that focuses on how science and technology are transforming society. He began his career at PBS station KERA in Dallas, Texas, and earned his M.F.A. from Stanford University's Documentary Film program.

Kate McLean Producer

Kate McLean is a writer, filmmaker and documentary producer based in San Francisco. She's currently producing the forthcoming PBS documentary TRUE CONVICTION about a group of exonerees who form their own detective agency, as well as IMMIGRANT NATION, an interactive project supported by the Tribeca Film Institute and the MacArthur Foundation. She co-directed the short documentary THE CARETAKER, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and was featured in the New York Times' OpDocs series. She also co-directed POT COUNTRY, which screened at Hot Docs and Mill Valley International Film Festival. Before that, she associate produced the PBS special THE BOTANY OF DESIRE, adapted from Michael Pollan's book of the same name. She has a master's degree from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.


 

Updates

TRUE CONVICTION airs on Independent Lens

4/30/18

Don't miss this powerful story of exonerated ex-prisoners working to rebuild their lives and fix the criminal justice system, airing on Independent Lens tonight at 10pm. Visit the Independent Lens website for more details.

THE LATEST FROM @@Convictionfilm ON TWITTER

"Even now, it is said, people still send letters to Sherlock Holmes, asking for the great detective’s help in solvi… https://t.co/YJv491M4lb

July 20, 2018

Have you seen TRUE CONVICTION yet? It's the story of a new detective agency in Dallas, Texas, started by a group of… https://t.co/C6KEEwmJaW

July 19, 2018

RT @innocence: “Faye’s case exemplifies just how difficult it is to overturn a conviction in our justice system. It should not be this hard…

Retweeted from @Innocence Project

July 18, 2018

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Festivals & Awards

Tribeca Film Festival

2017

There’s a new detective agency in Dallas Texas, started by three exonerated men with decades in prison served between them who look to free innocent people behind bars. True Conviction follows these change-makers as they not only try to rebuild their lives and families, but also attempt to fix the criminal justice system. Director Jamie Meltzer takes viewers into the real-life crime drama that surrounds these freedom fighters on their quest for justice. Brought together through the painful experiences of serving time in jail for crimes they didn’t commit, these brave men embark on a journey of a lifetime to free those wrongly accused and still behind bars. As the drama unfolds, we are given privileged access and insight not only into the personal lives and struggles of the detectives, but also to the difficulties they face in the pursuit of justice. True Conviction is an incredible portrait of those who are able to overcome their past, and use the knowledge and lessons from the journey to help others and effect real change. 

—Deborah Rudolph

+ Festival Website

Oak Cliff Film Festival

2017

There’s a new detective agency in Dallas, Texas started by Johnnie Lindsey, Christopher Scott, and Steven Phillips, who have decades in prison between them. Now exonerated, the trio has formed their own pseudo-detective agency that frees innocent people from behind bars. The cases they pursue resemble their own: the sort of cases that the justice system should backstop, but usually does not. Taking viewers into the real-life crime drama that surrounds these imperfect freedom fighters on their quest for justice, TRUE CONVICTION highlights the importance of asking the questions that bureaucracy does not.

+ Festival Website

Reviews

A surprising and profound experience…A rousing piece of work.”

-Meredith Alloway, Filmmaker Magazine

A harrowing, vital movie, TRUE CONVICTION will make you rethink all your assumptions of law and order.”

-Christopher Llewellyn Reed, Hammer to Nail

A profound look at our judicial system through the lens of three men it nearly destroyed…TRUE CONVICTION is powerful, devastating and remarkable.”

-Aramide A. Tinubu, Shadow and Act

Outreach

Since 1989, 2,023 U.S. men and women have been exonerated for crimes they did not commit. Wrongful convictions derail lives, leave the real perpetrators of crimes at large, steal years away from families and can result in an innocent person being executed — a miscarriage of justice that amounts to a human rights crisis. In 2016 the Huffington Post reported that an estimated 1 in 25 people on death row are innocent of the crimes they were convicted for. The critical, national issue of wrongful conviction is unfolding right now in Dallas, Texas, where the largest exoneree community in the country is taking on the issue of wrongful conviction and advocating in unique ways — with inspiring results that offer a model to the rest of the nation. Due to the lobbying efforts of exonerees, Texas is a leader in adopting reforms to prevent wrongful convictions. The state also offers financial support and healthcare to exonerees, so that people who have lost decades of work experience and income, had their families shattered, and suffered emotional and physical problems in prison can get their lives back on track. Despite this accomplishment in Texas, there are still 18 states in this nation that offer exonerees no form of compensation whatsoever. Many of the statutes in the states that do provide some form of compensation are woefully inadequate.

The key issues the films raises are:

  1. The alarming number of confirmed wrongful convictions in the U.S.
    • 2,161 innocent people have been exonerated since 1989.
    • This includes death sentences in wrongful conviction cases.
  2. The need for criminal justice reform, particularly in cases involving African American men.
    • Nearly half (1,014) of the national exonerees in the U.S. are African American men. 
    • Over half of wrongful convictions are due to police misconduct. (1,131/2,184).
    • 29% (641/2,184) of national exonerations were due to mistaken witness ID.  Exonerees need comprehensive support systems and compensation after release
  3. Exonerees need comprehensive support systems and compensation after release.
    • Emotional, psychological and financial support are needed for exonerees once they get out to get their life on track.
    • The average exoneree loses 8.7 years of their life incarcerated for a crime they did not commit.

Outreach Resources

Innocence Project

The Innocence Project, founded in 1992 by Peter Neufeld and Barry Scheck at Cardozo School of Law, exonerates the wrongly convicted through DNA testing and reforms the criminal justice system to prevent future injustice. The Innocence Project's mission is to free the staggering number of innocent people who remain incarcerated, and to bring reform to the system responsible for their unjust imprisonment.

+ innocenceproject.org