Jamie Meltzer's True Conviction is a finalist in the documentary feature category at the 2017 Heartland Film Festival for the award's $25,000 cash prize, one of the nation's leading top film festival prizes for documentary filmmakers.
The film tells the unique story of a detective agency started in Dallas, Texas by three exonerated men, with decades served in prison between them for crimes they did not commit, determined to find, support, and help others whose cases resemble their own such as those where the punishment doesn't fit the crime and/or the physical evidence doesn't support their conviction.
Winner of Best Documentary Feature at Oak Cliff Film Festival and a Special Mention for Documentary Feature at Tribeca Film Festival, True Conviction is a compelling and involving film that simultaneously serves as a character study of these three men and a rather pointed indictment of the U.S. justice system that, all too often, doesn't actually result in justice being served.
True Conviction has multiple scenes acted out of the Hickory House BBQ Restaurant, which may or may not be the actual headquarters for this detective agency but which seemingly serves as the soul-centered locale of their operations.
Rather wisely, Meltzer doesn't pretend in True Conviction that these men's lives are easy. In fact, to one degree or another all three of them struggle getting their own lives together even as they're working to help others. Having received $80,000 each per each year they served for the crimes they did not commit, Phillips having a particularly powerful story as a man who has struggled with drug addiction and who pretty much blows through the $1 million he received post-release and who quickly finds himself back in dire circumstances after a drug-related arrest.
The stories of the men they try to help are equally compelling, though perhaps none so tragic as that of Max Safer, a man convicted at the age of 24 of a quadruple murder during a bowling alley robbery whose conviction largely hinged upon a a prosecutor's prayer-inspired belief in the man's guilt and Safer's own confession that conflicted with both testimony and the actual evidence. Watching Safer, seemingly institutionalized in pretty much every way, is nothing shy of tragic.
True Conviction is an immensely involving film, though it's occasional sense of staginess also occasionally hinders its emotional impact and makes it feel like more of a television doc than a feature doc. However, overall, this is a relatively minor issue that isn't present throughout the film and can't begin to impact the power of these stories as they're unfolding.
For more information on Heartland Film Festival screenings, visit the Heartland Film website.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic