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USA, 2008, 91 Minute Running Time
Genre/Subjects: Documentary, History, Social Issues
Programs: Films in Competition, Documentary FilmsLanguage: English
DIRECTOR: Don Hardy, Dana Nachman
Producer: Don Hardy, Dana Nachman, (executive) Sean PennEditor: Don HardyScreenwriter: Dana NachmanCinematographer: Don Hardy, Brad Williams, Dan Gillett, Alex Bozovic, Josh Keppel, Paul Fifield, Monique Hurley
In the early 1980s, the sleepy agricultural town of Bakersfield, California, was rocked by a series of sensationalized events that shocked its citizenry—and much of the nation—to the core. Crusading district attorney Ed Jagels, backed by local law enforcement agencies, engaged in a high-profile, mass arrest of working-class men and women, charging them with the heinous crime of child molestation—whose victims, Jagels claimed, often included their own children. One of the accused was John Stoll—who, when asked by his lawyer if he was scared, replied, “Hell, no, I ain’t worried. I didn’t do this. You can’t convict me of something I didn’t do.” But over the next two years, Stoll and dozens of others would indeed be convicted, caught in a whirlwind of hysteria—filled with claims of Satanic ritual abuse—that dropped them right down into prison, where they never ceased proclaiming their innocence. (Stoll himself spent two decades in San Quentin.) It wasn’t until long-withheld evidence eventually began to surface—above all startling revelations that the children had been coerced by overzealous social workers and police officers—that justice would at last be served (excepting the fact that Jagels remains in office).
From Emmy Award–winning documentarians Don Hardy and Dana Nachman comes Witch Hunt, a gripping, Kafkaesque, and true account of the breakdown of the American legal system—and a bracing wake-up call to anyone who has ever thought, “It couldn’t happen to me.” Featuring powerful narration by Sean Penn (who also acted as executive producer) and musical contributions by Pearl Jam, the film interweaves new interviews with archival footage while highlighting the role played by the Northern California Innocence Project, whose tireless work has led to the overturning of many of the convictions.
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