About this project
Thank you to everyone who backed us and helped us reach our goal! If you are just learning about our film, you can find out the latest at our web site. If would like to support the project, you can still make a donation for some of our original rewards below, including a digital download or DVD of Freedom Fighters here.
They call themselves the Freedom Fighters, and they are looking to free innocent people still behind bars. Freedom Fighters is a character-driven documentary that follows these change-makers as they rebuild their lives and families, learn to investigate cases, work to support each other, and campaign to fix the criminal justice system.
OUR TRAILER: Check out the trailer for the film below!
WHY WE NEED YOUR SUPPORT: In order to make this film, we urgently need to raise $30,000 in the next 30 days. We need to spend a sustained period of time filming with the Freedom Fighters as they take on new cases, which is happening this summer. We don’t want to miss this important moment in their investigative work! We also need to start editing footage we have shot over the past year so we can apply to grants and get this film fully funded.
ABOUT OUR SUBJECTS:
Christopher Scott was released from prison after serving 13 years of a life sentence for a murder he didn’t commit. This sounds like a nightmare, but it’s more common than you might think. 32 people like Chris have been exonerated in Dallas. Most of them are black men who were locked up in their youth and emerged in middle age looking for a way to make sense of what happened. One day at an exoneree support group meeting, an idea came to Chris: exonerees could become detectives, find other wrongfully convicted people sitting in prison, investigate their cases and prove their innocence. "I'm the go-getter, I'm the one that sets the standards, because I'm a leader - I lead by example." Chris was recently named Texan of the Year by the Dallas Morning News.
Johnnie Lindsey, the most dapper member of the Freedom Fighters (Chris calls him “laid back… a real smooth operator.”), spent 26 years in prison for a sexual assault he didn't commit. As calm, cool, and collected as he is, Johnnie can get fired-up about all the wrongful convictions in Texas: “Something’s wrong, something's happening in Texas… they robbed us out of our lives - 26 years of my life… I was robbed.”
Billy Smith was released in 2006 after spending two decades behind bars, after being wrongly identified and convicted for aggravated sexual assault. He knew his case had DNA evidence but it wasn’t until 2001, 15 years into his sentence, that prisoners could request DNA tests. Billy is still overcome with emotion at times when he looks at his front door, sees the doorknob on the inside, and realizes he can turn that knob and walk out anytime he wants to go. “There’s no bars there, no guards walking past my door. I can go out when I want to go out... I'm free.”
For these men, the most powerful way to create meaning out of the decades they lost in prison is by pushing forward with the detective agency. We will follow them as they learn the ropes of investigation--following leads, tracking down witnesses and finding out what kind of evidence will make a strong case in court--on their first cases. Whatever they discover, we know their sleuthing will shed light on important and interesting issues within the criminal justice system. As they piece together clues, we will also see the new detectives coming to a kind of peace with what happened to them.
THE ISSUE: Wrongful conviction is one of the most urgent issues facing our criminal justice system. Since 2000, there have been an average of 52 exonerations a year -- about 1 per week -- and those are just the cases where prisoners have succeeded in court. Wrongful convictions derail lives, steal years away from families, and they leave dangerous criminals at large. The Freedom Fighters represent a way forward, not only with their detective agency, but also their work supporting other exonerees and lobbying at the Capitol in Austin to make changes to the law - solving the problems that lead to wrongful convictions. They are an inspiration, using the experiences they've had to bring positive, grassroots change to the system that wronged them.
ABOUT OUR TEAM:
Director Jamie Meltzer’s feature documentary films have been broadcast nationally on PBS and have screened at numerous film festivals worldwide. They include Off the Charts: The Song-Poem Story (Independent Lens, 2003) about the shadowy world of song-poems, Welcome to Nollywood, an investigation into the wildly successful Nigerian movie industry (PBS broadcast, 2008), La Caminata (2009), a short film about a small town in Mexico that runs a simulated border crossing as a tourist attraction, and Informant, winner of four best documentary/grand jury awards at film festivals in 2012, about a revolutionary activist turned FBI informant, being released in theaters nationwide by Music Box Films in 2013. He teaches in the MFA Program in Documentary Film and Video at Stanford University.
Producer Kate McLean is an award winning writer and filmmaker. Her new project, Immigrant Nation, was awarded the Tribeca Film Institute New Media grant and is slated to launch later this year. Her short film, Pot Country, screened at a number of festivals, including Hot Docs and Mill Valley International Film Festival, and was a national finalist for the Student Academy Awards. Before that, she worked as an Associate Producer on the PBS special The Botany of Desire, adapted from Michael Pollan’s book of the same name. Her written work has appeared in the New York Times.
Producer David Alvarado is a documentary filmmaker with a passion for science and philosophy. He has a special interest in human nature, evolution, the body, and religion as a natural phenomenon. After working at PBS, David became a successful film-industry freelancer, recording sound for fiction film, shooting documentary, and editing video until he had advanced his career to the point where he could pursue his own projects. David owns and operates Structure Films LLC, a start-up documentary film company that focuses on how science and health are transforming society. David graduated from Stanford University's Documentary Film and Video MFA program in 2010, and now lives and works in New York City.
Producer Michael May teaches radio documentary at the Salt Institute in Portland, ME. Before that, he was the managing editor of the Texas Observer and a print and radio freelancer based in Austin, where he investigated an idiosyncratic FBI informant named Brandon Darby, heard Willie Nelson sing “Amazing Grace” a capella and discovered that a police “bait car” can snare good Samaritans. His stories ended up on This American Life, Studio 360, Marketplace, The Austin Chronicle and others.
We hope you join in support of our filmmaking team and we have some great rewards to encourage you, including:
- A shout-out on our Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/freedomfightersfilm)
- A pre-release digital download of the finished film! See it before anyone else does.
- A pre-release DVD or Blu-ray of the finished film!
-Signed Copies of TESTED, an amazing book of stories and photography about the Dallas County exonerees featured in the film (limited to 50 copies!!)
Look inside the book here:
- Tickets to our Dallas Premiere Party or the premiere of the film at a festival near you!
See the sidebar for more great rewards.
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Risks and challenges
The Freedom Fighters are just now embarking on their first cases. Though we don't yet know the outcome of these cases (that's part of the excitement of doing a film like this!), we do know that the story of the investigators themselves are compelling and dramatic, and their journey to learn the ropes of investigating cases will provide needed insight into how and why wrongful convictions happen. We are accomplished filmmakers with many films under our belts and we are used to adapting to unpredictable circumstances and still coming out with a spectacular film.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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