PRESUMED GUILTY (Roberto Hernández & Geoffrey Smith, Mexico, 2009)
Film Society of Lincoln Center, Walter Reade Theater
165 West 65th St. at Amsterdam Ave.
Thursday, June 24, 7:00
Roberto Hernández and Geoffrey Smith’s harrowingly frustrating documentary is precisely the type of true story that explains why the Human Rights Watch Film Festival, and the Human Rights Watch organization itself, unfortunately needs to exist. Part of the Accountability and Justice section of the festival and chosen as the closing night film, PRESUMED GUILTY details the plight of Toño Zuniga, a young man arrested in Mexico City in December 2005 for a murder he did not commit and, despite all the evidence supporting his innocence — and even more important, no evidence proving his guilt — remains locked up, facing a long sentence. PRESUMED GUILTY is a maddening indictment of Mexico’s corrupt legal system, from cops who are paid by the arrest, to prosecutors who need to present nothing at trials, to judges who refuse to listen to the truth. Lawyers Hernández and Layda Negrete, along with documentarian Geoffrey Smith (THE ENGLISH SURGEON), are given remarkable access to Zuniga, following him in prison and ultimately filming his ever-more-ridiculous retrial, which he watches from a tiny barred area behind the judge. Zuniga himself is a fascinating character who is somehow able to hold back any anger as the inequities just keep piling on, but viewers won’t be able to temper their anger as the frustration builds to impossible heights. Smith and Hernández will participate in a postscreening discussion and reception that will bring the 2010 Human Rights Watch Film Festival to its conclusion, until next year, when another series of politically based dramas and documentaries expose other frightening tragedies occurring all over the world.