Films on Injustice


Spies of Mississippi

Documentary 2014 TV-PG 52m. In the 1960s, the state of Mississippi formed a secret agency that employed black spies to infiltrate and take down civil rights organizations.  I had heard about the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission, but I wasn’t aware it was anything on this scale. 160,000 pages, with insiders traveling all over the US to infiltrate. And then its involvement in the Cheney, Goodman, Schwermer murders. That said, this is an excellent documentary that should be shown in every school in America. Not just as a lesson on racism, but as a lesson about power, how power works, and how power corrupts. This is an important film.

The Central Park Five

Documentary 2012 NR 1hr 58m. This documentary examines the case of five teenagers, all African-American or Latino, who were falsely accused and convicted of the brutal rape of a white woman in 1989. The facts are revealed that the entire police brass, DAs, politicians and especially the NYC media was complicit in railroading these youths. Modern forensics exonerated them with the help the actual perpetrator who eventually confessed. When I heard Ken Burns was involved in producing this film, I immediately wanted to see it. See Full Review

The Invisible War

Documentary 2012 NR 1hr 37m. The Invisible War exposes a rape epidemic in the armed forces, investigating the institutions that perpetuate it as well as its personal consequences. See Full Review

Children of Internment

Documentary 2014 86 min. Thousands of German families were interned by the United States during World War 2. (It is a common misperception that only Japanese-Americans were interned during WW2.) This wartime internment of German-Americans remains generally unknown to most Americans — and largely overlooked by historians. Nearly 11,000 German “aliens” were interned and tens of thousands more suffered illegal searches and seizures, relocation, harassment, interrogation, family separation, deportation and repatriation to Germany. All immigrants to the USA are labelled “aliens” until they learn English and pass tests to become US “citizens”. Many immigrants after the end of World War One took the steps to become US “citizens”, but many others remained technically classified as “aliens”, perhaps too busy trying to earn a living to learn English and pass the citizenship tests. So this group of new Americans were technically still citizens of Germany, and these “aliens” could be interned for no good reason.  See Full Review

(Codebreaker: The Story of Alan Turing)

Docudrama 2014 NR 1hr 21m. This biopic follows the life of World War II codebreaker Alan Turing, who fell victim to Britain’s harsh laws at the time concerning homosexuality. While the film does consider Turing’s work breaking the Enigma code at Bletchley Park during WWII and his role as one of the fathers of the electronic computer and his application of mathematics to biology, the focus of the film is on his punishment by the British government in the early 1950s as a homosexual. What isn’t really explored at length is whether this was due to genuine fears about his being a security risk during the height of the Cold War, or because he violated the moral code of a Christian society. Well worth watching.

The Confessions

Documentary Frontline 2010 NR 83 minutes. In this edition of the investigative PBS series, show producer Ofra Bikel looks into the case of four U.S. Navy seamen living in the hellish aftermath of falsely confessing to the 1997 rape and murder of a Virginia woman. Through interviews with the convicted men, Bikel exposes the high-pressure interrogation methods used by police to extract confessions despite the absence of evidence connecting the sailors to the crime.See Full Review

Scottsboro: An American Tragedy

Documentary American Experience 2000 NR 90 minutes. When two white women accused nine black teenagers of raping them on an Alabama train in 1931, their claims set off a chain reaction that eventually reached the Supreme Court — and launched the modern-day Civil Rights movement. Shot over five years on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line, this fascinating installment of the “American Experience” series dissects the particulars of the case through the words of those who lived it.See Full Review

The Thin Blue Line

Documentary 1988 NR 102 minutes. Filmmaker Errol Morris’s gripping investigation into the murder of a Dallas police officer was responsible for freeing the man who was originally — and erroneously — charged with and convicted of the crime. The Thin Blue Line focuses on the case of Randall Adams, who allegedly murdered a police officer. Combining his nearly obsessive concern for the truth with his experience as a private detective, Morris unearthed a plethora of misconceptions and flat-out lies that made it clear Adams was being framed. Publicity surrounding the film resulted in his case being re-opened, exonerating Adams. What makes the film so different is that there is no narration, and no identification of the people who are being interviewed. The re-enactments don’t quite show the viewer everything. The point here is that the search for truth and justice is not an easy one. Morris allows all sides to present alternative accounts of the events, showing the viewer objects and re-enactments that support each story. This has the effect of turning the viewer into an investigator or jury member. The film’s title is from a statement by the prosecutor referring to the line between peace and anarchy, represented by the police. See Full Review

To Kill a Mockingbird

Drama 1962 NR 130 minutes. Southern comforts abound in this big-screen adaptation of Harper Lee’s novel as lawyer Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck, in an Oscar-winning role) defends an innocent black man (Brock Peters) against rape charges but ends up in a maelstrom of hate and prejudice. Meanwhile, with help from a friend (John Megna), Finch’s children, Jem (Phillip Alford) and Scout (Mary Badham), set their sights on making contact with a reclusive neighbor (Robert Duvall).Full Review

Murder on a Sunday Morning

Documentary  2001 NR 111 minutes. This Oscar-winning documentary chronicles the case of Brenton Butler, an African American teen accused of murdering a woman outside her hotel. When Butler’s lawyer reopens the case, she sets out to prove that the investigation was shockingly corrupt.

The Murder of Emmett Till

Documentary American Experience 2003 NR 53 minutes.  This PBS “American Experience” documentary examines the murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till and the subsequent acquittal of his killers. Considered a catalyst for America’s civil rights movement, Till’s death sent shockwaves throughout the world. While visiting the Deep South, Till whistled at a white woman, an act which led to his brutal killing. Activists organized after Till’s mother let national newspapers run pictures of her mangled son. See Full Review

The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till

Documentary 2005 PG-13 70 minutes.  When he visited family in Mississippi in 1955, 14-year-old Emmett Till never imagined he wouldn’t be coming home. But that was before he met Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam, who savagely beat and killed the boy for allegedly whistling at a white woman. This absorbing documentary from director Keith Beauchamp ultimately moved the U.S. Department of Justice to reopen the case in 2005, 50 years after the crime.

Hot Coffee
Is Justice Being Served?

Documentary 2011 NR 89 minutes. This documentary examines the so-called “hot coffee lawsuit” in which a woman sued McDonald’s after she spilled her coffee and burned herself, specifically looking at the reasons why the many major corporations through the Chamber of Commerce invested heaps of money to sway public opinion.

A/k/a Tommy Chong

Documentary 2006 NR 80 mins.  In 2003 the U.S. government used entrapment and allocated an astounding $12 million to apprehend Tommy Chong — better known as half of the classic comedy team Cheech and Chong — for selling bong-like glass pipes over the Internet.  Filmmaker Josh Gilbert chronicles the sting that came to be known as “Operation Pipe Dream” in this fascinating documentary featuring interviews with Richard “Cheech” Marin, Jay Leno, and Bill Maher.   I really did not know that Tommy Chong was locked up for selling glass pipes on the internet!  It’s not that the Chongs were faultless, it’s just that government really, really wanted to use them as an example.  The federal government prosecuted this case with a clear intent to ‘send a message’.  Tommy Chong is an affable, easy-going guy in this documentary about the events leading up to his incarceration and his attitude afterward.  So this is the story about how the federal government used YOUR tax dollars, $12,000,000, to send Tommy to a plush federal prison for six months — for selling for selling glass pipe bongs on line?  And it was basically his son doing most of the promoting and just using Tommy’s famous name to sell the product.  Who came out the losers? — the U.S. taxpayers. Every taxpayer should see this movie.  Tommy came out of prison more popular than ever.  It also does a decent job of attacking the idiot former AG Ashcroft and their “war” on drugs — they didn’t even need Michael Moore to make the Feds look dumb.   Just when you thought our government couldn’t get any sillier, they do.  This is a must-see movie unless you are so against other people using pot that you miss the point.  I don’t use it, but I cannot see the point in locking up people who advocate its use and sell glass pipes!  Very interesting view of government misuse of power regarding the first amendment, prosecuting Chong for saying things that ‘could corrupt youngsters’ by encouraging them to smoke marijuana.  We are truly living in a post-constitutional era. The constitution and the Bill of Rights have been systematically compromised and are no longer able to protect our individual rights and freedoms from those who have corrupted our system.  Perhaps this will be a wake up call to those who don’t think it can happen to them.  Even if you aren’t a pot-head now, nor ever have been, this movie has fascinating points to make.

Giuliani Time

Documentary 2005 NR1hr 58m. Rudy Giuliani catapulted to international fame (that had even Queen Elizabeth fawning over him) upon helming the post-9/11 relief effort. The former mayor of New York City is also credited with cleaning up the streets of the Big Apple during the 1990s. But Kevin Keating’s exposé tells a different story — one of First Amendment transgressions and police brutality — through interviews with legal experts, activists and even the homeless.

Paradise Lost (1996)

Documentary 1996 NR 150 minutes.  Shedding light on the legal system — and on the media machine that often demonizes the accused — this gripping documentary follows the notorious West Memphis Three, a trio of boys arrested for the murders of three children found in a creek bed. Appearing on many critics’ year-end Top 10 lists for 1996, this film from directors Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky also won the National Board of Review’s prestigious prize for Best Documentary. This was followed by two more films in 1999 and 2011 that continued this true story.

Paradise Lost 2: Revelations

Documentary 1999 NR 130 minutes. This engrossing documentary revisits the chilling mystery at the heart of HBO’s award-winning special, Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills, profiling a trio of Arkansas teenagers convicted of murdering three 8-year-old boys. In this disturbing yet absolutely fascinating examination of the horrific crime and of the judicial system, directors Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky bring new insight to the highly controversial case.

Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory

Documentary 2011 NR 121 minutes.  This third installment in a series of films investigating the wrongful murder convictions of three teenagers known as the West Memphis 3 examines their 1993 arrests, the movement to free them, and new DNA evidence resulting in their 2011 release.

Children of Internment

Documentary 2013. Thousands of German families were interned by the United States during World War II. They were taken from their homes and schools, denied ‘due process’ and imprisoned in 200+ detention camps throughout the United States and Latin America. ‘Children of Internment’ tells their riveting story using live interviews with those who were interned, family photographs and historical footage. It comes as no surprise that the issues we face today regarding the fear and hatred of immigrants has been with us a long time. The taking away of freedom, due process and habeas corpus rights, with the excuse that doing so is vital to national security, was an issue then and continues to be an issue today

The Times of Harvey Milk

Documentary 1984 UR 90 mins.  This is about San Francisco’s most colorful — and tragic — political figure: Harvey Milk, a staunch fighter for gay rights who helped forge a presence for the city’s gay community in city hall. Milk became the first openly gay member of San Francisco’s combative city council. But his life, along with Mayor George Moscone’s, was cut short by infamous fellow politico Dan White.  This is what I knew of Harvey Milk before watching the movie: that he was a gay rights activist, the first openly gay person to ever get into political office, made the “pooper scooper law”, and he was killed. This film reveals a man who would not be defeated, fought for the rights of any minority, was outspoken even if his thoughts were in the minority, articulate, and loved by many. The Academy Award nominated Best Documentary explores his political career up to the aftermath of his death along with Mayor Moscone’s and the reaction from the SF community. The documentary does an excellent job at exploring the gay rights movement during the 70’s and the ballot proposed for the California Constitution (Prop 6) and how Harvey was brilliant at coming up with plans to stop it.  In a miscarriage of justice, their killer Dan White was convicted only of manslaughter rather than murder, which outraged the constituents of Harvey Milk.  A great documentary.  Highly recommended.

Billy Budd

Drama 1962 NR 123 minutes. Peter Ustinov directs this adaptation of Herman Melville’s seafaring novel about young Billy Budd (Terence Stamp), who’s forced to serve in the British navy during wartime. The naive Budd must prove himself to his fellow shipmates, but after an unfortunate incident, he winds up accused of murder. Ustinov does double duty by portraying the ship’s captain. Melvyn Douglas, Robert Ryan and John Neville also star. At Billy’s court martial, the theme of the movie is given voice: “We do not deal with justice here, but with the law.”

The Life of Emile Zola

Docudrama 1937 NR 116 minutes. Paul Muni stars as French writer and social activist Emile Zola in a biopic that won Oscars for Best Picture, Best Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor. The film tracks Zola through his friendship with Paul Cezanne, his efforts to expose social ills that plagued France’s lower classes, and his battle against the anti-Semitic scapegoating of Dreyfus. Most of the film covers Zola’s defense of Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish captain of artillery in the French army who was falsely accused and convicted of treason. Zola began his defense with “J’Accuse”, a newspaper article addressed to the French president which charged the highest levels of French government and the army with obstruction of justice and anti-semitism in the wrongful conviction and imprisonment of Dreyfus…a conviction which held even after incontrovertible evidence was brought forward implicating another French officer of the treasonable conduct in question. Much of the story after the introduction of the Dreyfus case is a courtroom drama. The relevance of this movie today is found in its presentation of a governmental body that cares only about saving face, even if it means consciously imprisoning an innocent man and supporting a known traitor. Zola said, “May my name perish if Dreyfus is not innocent.” This is a compelling film with a powerful message even today, some 75 years after it was filmed.

The Passion of Joan of Arc
(La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc)

Docudrama 1928  NR82 minutes. Considered director Carl Theodor Dreyer’s finest achievement and one of the greatest movies of all time, this stunning emotional drama recounts the events surrounding Joan of Arc’s 1431 heresy trial, burning at the stake and subsequent martyrdom. The film’s original version, thought to have been lost to fire, was miraculously found in perfect condition in 1981. Maria Falconetti turns in a haunting performance as the young French saint.


Burden of Innocence

Documentary Frontline 2003. In recent years, media headlines have trumpeted the release of more than 100 longtime inmates who have been exonerated by DNA testing. But what happens to these wrongly accused inmates after the media spotlight turns elsewhere and they must attempt to rejoin a world far different from the one they left behind? In a new one-hour documentary, Frontline producer Ofra Bikel examines the many social, psychological, and economic challenges facing exonerated inmates, the vast majority of whom must re-enter society with no financial or transitional assistance whatsoever. The film highlights the cases of several recently exonerated inmates and the hurdles they face as they attempt to repair the damaged inflicted upon their lives. It also examines efforts to pass laws that would allow the wrongfully convicted to sue the government for compensation.

Requiem for Frank Lee Smith

Documentary Frontline 2002. In December 2000, after spending fourteen years on Florida’s Death Row, Frank Lee Smith was finally cleared of the rape and murder of eight-year-old Shandra Whitehead. Like nearly 100 prisoners before him, Smith’s belated exoneration came as a result of sophisticated DNA testing that was unavailable when he was first convicted. But for Frank Lee Smith, the good news came too late: Ten months before he was proven innocent, Smith died of cancer in his jail cell, just steps away from Florida’s electric chair. How did Frank Lee Smith end up on Death Row for a crime he didn’t commit? And why was he allowed to die there despite possible evidence of his innocence?

The Case For Innocence

Documentary Frontline 2000. Fifteen years ago, DNA analysis was nonexistent. Today, more than seventy inmates accused of rape and murder have been freed because DNA tests proved their innocence in a way that evidence, courtroom testimony, and eyewitness accounts never could. Why then are prosecutors, courts, and even governors reluctant to use this scientific test? And when evidence has been tested and DNA does not match that of the accused, how can the law overlook the results? Frontline investigates the reasons why inmates remain in prison despite DNA evidence that excludes them as the perpetrators.

What Jennifer Saw

Documentary Frontline 1997. Identified by the victim, Ronald Cotton spent eleven years in prison for rape. But in 1995, DNA evidence proved Cotton could not have been the attacker. With unprecedented access to the central figures in the investigation, confidential police reports and legal files, Frontline delves into the Cotton case, examining the reliability of eyewitness identification and the implications of DNA evidence for the American justice system. In an exclusive interview, Jennifer Thompson tells the story of her brutal rape and how, twelve years later, she must confront the consequences of her mistaken identification.

The Injustice System in America

Documentary 2006 NR 80 minutes. This compelling documentary explores inequities in America’s justice system, focusing on the higher rate of incarceration experienced by minorities and the disparate conviction rate for African-American drug offenders. Interviews with experts including San Francisco public defender Jeff Adachi; Stanford Law School’s Michelle Alexander; and Vernell Critendon of San Quentin Prison shed light on this disturbing issue.

A Film about Greed & Corruption in America’s Lawsuit Industry

Documentary 2011. InJustice showcases how the class action lawsuit, born from the Civil Rights Act of 1964, was skillfully managed by a small group of trial attorneys who manipulated legal rules, procedures — and even their own clients — to become an international enterprise that rivals the scope and profits of Fortune 500 corporations. InJustice, takes a shockingly candid look-under-the-hood of the American legal machine. The film takes the viewer on an epic journey through the dark corridors of lawsuit scams and abuses, including: asbestos and silicosis litigation, the Fen-Phen diet scandal, the bizarre truth behind the mega-million dollar tobacco settlements, Main Street America to Wall Street, and the shakedown operations in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.” In this original exposé, Single Malt Media takes a unique approach to examining the scope and magnitude of lawsuit abuse, its personal and societal costs and the billions in profits the lawsuit industry leverages, many times without ever going to trial. InJustice blows the lid off the growing phenomenon of how some plaintiffs, who are never injured by an accident or a faulty product, steal resources from those who have been legitimately hurt or damaged. Motivated through personal experience, awarding-winning producer Brian Kelly decided to make a movie about the U.S. legal system. His own dealings with trial attorneys were so laborious and tiresome that it triggered his movie-maker instincts and led to this documentary.

The Trial
(Le Procès)

Drama 1962 NR 1hr 59m. Director Orson Welles’s brilliant adaptation of Franz Kafka’s existential novel casts Anthony Perkins as Josef K, a bank clerk who finds himself at the mercy of a powerful and bizarre judicial system when he’s arrested for an unnamed crime. The storyline is basically an absurdist, dystopian nightmare, with the main character becoming increasingly intertwined into an ominous, unending and malevolent beaurocracy, intent on prosecuting him for a crime that remains unrevealed. Is this story a cautionary meditation on facism/communism? Is it a testimonial on the nature of human guilt? We just don’t know, but it is a vast, although a bit difficult, work to ponder. The beginning and end were absolutely compelling; however the rest of the film is a surrealist nightmare where nothing makes sense and the only emotions present are fear and helplessness. The Trial one of the greatest visual feasts I’ve ever seen on film. Every scene is filled with a fantastic set that provokes emotions of paranoia and fear, two emotions that were paramount in Franz Kafka’s classic novel. This was a movie I had to watch several times before growing to love it. However, it was also a film who’s content consistently remained in my mind, encouraging me to try again. Recommended.

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