"Deadline" chronicles the process that led to Illinois gov. George Ryan commuting 167 Death Row inmates' sentences to life imprisonment. Docu by Katy Chevigny and Kirsten Johnson makes a strong case against capital punishment by pointing up the fallibility of the justice system, while offering a portrait of one politico who seems guided foremost by conscience. Natural berth after fest rounds will be educational broadcast.

“Deadline” chronicles the heatedly public process that led to Illinois governor George Ryan commuting 167 Death Row inmates’ sentences to life imprisonment. Potent docu by Katy Chevigny and Kirsten Johnson makes a strong case against capital punishment by pointing up the fallibility of the justice system, while offering an inspiring portrait of one politico who actually seems guided foremost by conscience. Natural berth after fest rounds will be educational broadcast.

Republican Ryan had long been a death penalty advocate. But when a Northwestern University journalism professor’s students dug up evidence to successfully exonerate several convicted prisoners on Death Row — as an undergraduate class assignment! — he began to question whether the state’s criminal justice apparatus could be trusted not to execute the innocent. On eve of the end of his term, he decided it could not. Focusing primarily on this act and surrounding media attention, pic also finds room to consider capital punishment’s U.S. legal history, input from other exonerated former inmates, coerced confession tales, “tough on crime” stands as a political tool, etc. Package is crisply assembled.

Deadline

Production

A Big Mouth Prods. presentation. Produced by Dallas Brennan, Katy Chevigny. Executive producers, Peter Gilbert, Robert K. DiFazio. Directed by Katy Chevigny, Kirsten Johnson.

Crew

Camera (color, Sony HD cam), Johnson; editors, Kate Hirson, Carol Dysinger; music, Dan Marocco, Peter Nashel. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (competing), Jan. 21, 2004. Running time: 93 MIN.
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