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4 reviews, 4 user ratings

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After Innocence
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by Aaron Ducat

"Captivating & wrenching tale of unnecessary human suffering and degradation"
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2005 SEATTLE FILM FESTIVAL: After Innocence chronicles the stories of exonerated former prisoners who have successfully utilized DNA evidence to overturn their wrongful convictions. Following several former inmates, as well as those who fight to free them from behind bars and those who believe they should remain, the film is a captivating and wrenching tale of unnecessary human suffering and degradation, as well as an excoriating indictment of the misapplication of the penal system in the United States.

There are many depressing stories told in After Innocence, and unfortunately they provide an essential window into an easily overlooked segment of society. Of particular note is the story of Nick Yarris, who served 23 ½ years in solitary confinement on Death Row for a crime he did not commit. There’s an eeriness in watching Yarris, a muscular white man with close-cropped hair and wire-rimmed glasses, as he explains how his experiences in prison have made him “one of the strongest human beings ever alive”; he believes his time served (he was not allowed to speak for the first two years) has made him impenetrable to any infliction the world may attempt. Yarris notes that upon release he had allergic reactions to the fresh air (prison air is recycled), as well as finding the outside world overwhelmingly loud. Yarris currently spends his time fighting against the death penalty, stating, “I don’t have a choice: I can’t walk away (from this fight).”

The film also follows the story of Wilton Dedge, a young man when convicted in 1982 and sentenced to life in prison. Dedge was convicted on the basis of an eyewitness sketch, his resemblance to which was minimal. In the late 1990’s, Dedge appealed for a retrial on the basis of DNA evidence. Prosecutors in Florida’s Brevard County stalled and dragged their feet for several years on Dedge’s case, insisting that the original police sketch was sufficient ground for Dedge’s confinement, despite contradictory scientific evidence. Finally, in 2004 Dedge obtained a retrial and had DNA evidence introduced. The film captures Dedge’s eventual release and return to society, a humbled and empty shell of a man who didn’t even receive and apology from anyone for the destruction of his life.

Many of the exonerated are currently fighting to improve reparations for those released. In most cases, when convicted criminals are paroled they receive job training, healthcare, assistance finding housing, and financial assistance from the state. However, those who are exonerated receive nothing: no training, no assistance, and certainly no compensation for the years of their lives that the state has taken. While it would be impossible to imagine how to determine such figures, their absence is glaring and casts further question on the application of justice in the penal system. Further, most states are unwilling to expunge the records of those released, which makes it extremely difficult for them to obtain employment, rent apartments, build credit, etc.

After Innocence focuses on the work of The Innocence Project, a non-profit legal clinic founded in the early 1990’s by Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld in New York. The Project’s emphasis is to fight on behalf of those wrongfully imprisoned, focusing only on those cases where post-conviction DNA evidence can yield conclusive proof of innocence. Like most non-profits, The Innocence Project is under funded, and thus understaffed and unable to meet all the need that cries for its help. Shots of file cabinets full of letters from inmates whose cases may never be examined only hints at the problem of wrongful conviction, and further exemplifies the need to review current penal practices.

After Innocence is directed by Jessica Sanders, who earned an Oscar nomination for her production work on 2001’s Sing!. Sanders is clearly opposed to capitol punishment, and this allows her to portray these wrenching tales with compassion and clarity. However, this also works to hamstring the film, for it only presents one angle of this extremely complex issue. Interviews with equal-minded, truth-seeking prosecutors and judges, as well as with victims of various crimes would have lent the film greater balance, though Sanders’ work portraying this overlooked segment of true victims is a great contribution to the ever-increasing public interest in penal reform. After Innocence is a horribly sad window into lives that have been needlessly destroyed, though it raises issues of such poignancy that it would be wrong not to see it.

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originally posted: 06/22/05 06:32:04
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Sundance Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Philadelphia Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Philadelphia Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Independent Film Festival of Boston. For more in the 2005 Independent Film Festival of Boston series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Tribeca Film Festival For more in the 2005 Tribeca Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Seattle Film Festival For more in the 2005 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Chicago Film Festival For more in the 2005 Chicago Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Vancouver Film Festival For more in the 2005 Vancouver Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

9/26/08 Charles Tatum Very compelling 4 stars
1/09/06 Jeff Marzick A weak death penalty supporter before film. Not anymore. A must see for all. 5 stars
2/02/05 Philip Taylor its ok 3 stars
2/01/05 Gladys Paradowski It is frightening to realize that there are individuals suffering the 4 stars
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  DVD: 06-Feb-2007



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