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Confessions of an Innocent Man
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by Jason Whyte

"A fascinating look into the tortured mind of William Sampson."
5 stars

It was a world-wide news story back around 2000 and leading all the way past the horrific September 11th attacks; William Sampson was a Canadian working in Saudi Arabia when he was arrested and convicted for a crime he didn’t commit and was forced to endure nearly three years of torture and isolation in a Saudi prison.

What’s amazing about this film, one of the best documentaries I’ve seen this year, is how emotionally attached we become to Sampson, thanks to the painful, personal filmed interview that he gives years after his release for David Paperny’s new documentary on the subject. “Confessions of an Innocent Man” will give viewers a lot to talk about once the end credits have rolled.

The film opens on footage of Sampson as we see him free and back in Canada as he is walking around the countryside as a free man. Cut back to the year 2000, and we see Sampson as a business consultant who took a well-paid job working in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. His only crime, we see early on, is getting drunk with his working friends in underground bars (alcohol is illegal here). Late in 2000, there is a car bombing and one of Sampson’s friends is arrested. Later, so is Sampson.

Cut to a few months later, and Sampon is forced to confess to the car bombing on camera (which is eventually broadcast) and is thrown into solitary confinement. A death sentence hangs above his head. Early on, he is tortured, humiliated, even raped by prison guards, although none of this is made evident to anyone outside the prison. When the Canadian consulate comes to visit him in prison, he is forced not to say anything or it will invoke more torture. The Canadian government appears to do nothing about the situation. Even when his father visits a few months later, he can’t make any mention of it.

Filmed in harsh, sad close-ups that remind me of some of Errol Morris’ work, we become strongly attached to William Sampson and his story of the three years of his survival. As we listen to him talk, not only do we see painful reenactments of his torture and confinement, but his haunting explanations rocked me into the back of my seat. Although we see and hear so much, we can still only imagine the physical and emotional turmoil this man went through. As well, we are given a large amount of interview footage with people connected to the case, from Sampon’s father Jim to a reporter at the National Post and even a lawyer in the Canadian government.

“Confessions of an Innocent Man” is a harsh but powerful and meaningful piece of work; just starting to hit the festival circuit, this should be hitting a National Film Board release and a possible release by CTV later in the year. Whether you see it on the big screen or at home, please do so; it is a ride that must be taken at least once but is strongly rewarding once it is done. This film haunted and simultaneously pissed me off at the lengths that some governments will go to for justice, and the pains that a man has to endure who is wrongfully convicted of a crime.

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originally posted: 02/13/08 03:17:14
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Vancouver International Film Festival For more in the 2007 Vancouver International Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  David Paperny

Written by
  David Paperny


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