It’s a stirring moment when celebrities and activists find a common cause to rally behind. And that cause is the first-ever Justice on Trial Film Festival, which focuses solely on films that expose the flaws in the criminal justice system. Delivering the keynote address on October 20, 2013 was civil rights attorney and best-selling author Michelle Alexander. In fact, the festival grew from a conversation Alexander had with CNN Hero Susan Burton whose A New Way of Life Reentry Project has been lauded by celebrities like Jason Isaacs. So it was only fitting that Burton host the festival, which was held at the prestigious Loyola Marymount University.
In attendance were socially conscious celebrities, including Lance Reddick (Fringe), Rebecca Field (The Client List), Intervention’s Candy Finnigan (who presented Gideons Army), Major Crimes’ Tony Denison (who presented Crimes of Police), and model/activist Shaka Smith. Prominent leaders from the social justice community included Congresswoman Maxine Waters and renowned activists Dorsey Nunn and Daryl Atkinson.
On day one, the festival screened Gideon’s Army, which was directed by Dawn Porter and follows the personal stories of Travis Williams, Brandy Alexander and June Hardwick, who three young public defenders who are part of a small group of idealistic lawyers in the Deep South, challenging the assumptions that drive a criminal justice system strained to the breaking point. The second film was Crimes of Police, which was directed by Anshar Muhammad. This film is a documentary that centers on the cases of unarmed black men killed by police and paints a vivid picture of the reality of police brutality in America. The final film of the first day was From Critical Resistance to a New Way of Life, which was directed Setsu Shigematsu This two part documentary was designed as a teaching tool to expand knowledge about the history of the prison industrial complex and the prison abolition movement in the US and features Angela Y. Davis, Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Susan Burton, Melissa Burch, Dylan Rodriguez, and Andrea Smith.
The second day also featured three films. The first was Broken on All Sides, which is a film that centers around Michelle Alexander theory of modern-day racism. The second film was The House I Live In, which was filmed in more than 20 states, and examines the stories of people at all levels within the War on Drugs, revealing the battle’s human rights implications. The final film was Redemption of the Prosecutor, which is a documentary that asserts “sometimes it’s not the prisoner who needs forgiveness.”
On Sunday alone there were 500 guests who witnessed Alexander’s speech and partook of the films presented. With this small collection of important films, it’s heartwarming to know that the medium that brings so much joy and entertainment to our lives can also educate us in unexpected ways. Here’s to a long run for the Justice on Trial Film Festival.