Elgin James, director of this year’s acclaimed Sundance entry “Little Birds,” was sentenced to a year in prison on Wednesday after pleading guilty to attempted extortion.
U.S. District Judge Suzanne Conlon sentenced James on Tuesday despite letters of support sent from other filmmakers and producers including Robert Redford, according to the Chicago Tribune.
James was charged with a 2005 scheme in which he demanded a $5,000 “charitable donation” from an unidentified Chicago musician as the price for preventing beatings from the antiracist gang FSU, which was originally formed in the late 1980s to counter the influence of skinheads in the Boston area. According to prosecutors, James was to inform members of the gang that the musician “was not to be harmed” as they traveled the country to perform at rock concerts.
“I have accepted responsibility for my past, and I am now looking forward to continuing my film career,” James said after his sentencing, according to the Tribune.
James was one of Variety’s 10 Directors to Watch in advance of this year’s Sundance fest. He looked to leave his past behind in 2006, when a film was being developed based on his life that at one point was to have starred Justin Timberlake. But James, wary that he would “romanticize the violence” in his life, came up with another project, “Little Birds,” which is the story of two aimless 15-year-old girls. It was developed at the Sundance Lab.