Despite our best efforts to sweep prisoners "out of sight, out of mind", they're the product of a system that doesn't always work perfectly. When a fast food employee makes a mistake, you're stuck with unwanted mayo on your burger; when a judge makes a mistake, innocent people can end up in prison. The possibility of error always exists, for the simple reason that humans sometimes screw up. Whether it's due to false confessions, unreliable eyewitnesses or simply having a bad lawyer, the reality of innocent people stuck behind bars is bigger than you'd think.
Luckily, The Innocence Project has aided in the exoneration of wrongly imprisoned citizens since its launch in 1992. Created by Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld, this organization has committed itself to fighting for justice through DNA identification; specifically, through the testing of original evidence collected by authorities. They've helped to free nearly 200 people during the last 15 years---but since they receive about 200 requests per month (as of 2006), they've got their work cut out for them.
If that weren't enough, those freed have a new challenge to face: What now?
Whether stuck in prison for five years or twenty-five, these exonerates have one thing in common: they've lost relationships, life experiences and a sense of direction during their entrapment. We're reminded of this during Jessica Sanders' After Innocence (2005), a road trip-style documentary that brings us up to speed with a handful of those freed through DNA testing. Several men share their stories of being in the wrong place at the wrong time...and often times, simply having the wrong face.
Featured here are Dennis Maher of Lowell, MA; Calvin Willis of Shreveport, LA; Scott Hornoff of Providence, RI; Wilton Dedge of Cocoa Beach, FL.; Vincent Moto of Philadelphia, PA; Nick Yarris of Philadelphia, PA; and Herman Atkins of Los Angeles, CA (for their complete stories, click here). Since their release, some have gone on to fight for the abolishment of the death penalty. Some have rekindled past relationships with family members. One exonerate even became friends with the woman who accused him in the first place.
Few of them, however, received a simple apology from a judge, district attorney or prosecutor, let alone compensation for their lost years. They've been thrust back into society with little to no money, resources or job prospects; to make matters worse, some of their criminal records haven't even been cleared yet. Despite these setbacks, however, they all manage to carve out a new identity for themselves---or at the very least, salvage what's left of the old one. Their unjust treatment may be tough to stomach, but After Innocence's tagline is fitting: "A Real-Life Shawshank Redemption".
Presented on DVD by New Yorker Video, After Innocence is a well-rounded release that fans should enjoy. The main feature is paired with a decent technical presentation (with some mild reservations) and an assortment of quality extras, some of which offer a more recent look at where these men are now.
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, After Innocence's main visual drawback is the lack of anamorphic enhancement. Despite this glaring oversight, the main feature looks fairly good, boasting a natural color palette and good contrast. Only a small amount of edge enhancement creeps up along the way, but it doesn't prove to be overly distracting.
The audio, presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, is also fairly straightforward but gets the job done. The dialogue and music cues are easily heard from start to finish, though some of the older footage sounds a bit thin in comparison. Unfortunately, no optional subtitles or Closed Captions are included during the main feature or bonus material.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
Seen above, the plain-wrap menu designs are simple and easy to navigate. The 95-minute main feature has been divided into 24 chapters, while no obvious layer change was detected during playback. This one-disc release is housed in a standard black keepcase and includes no inserts of any kind. The front and back covers are littered with a ridiculous amount of adjectives (all positive), but all are justified.
First up is a pair of Interviews with director Jessica Sanders (9:56) and producer Marc Simon (10:44); these brief but interesting clips discuss the film's pre-production, meeting the exonerates, the filmmakers' approach to the subject matter, reactions to individual cases and so forth. These appear in lieu of an audio commentary, but it's a satisfying chat.
A collection of Deleted Scenes & Bonus Footage is next (5 clips, 42:31 total); new footage includes a trip to the 10th Anniversary of The Innocence Project in New York City (which also launched the "Life After Exoneration" program), Wilton Dedge's first day at home, the memorial service of Eddie Joe Lloyd (an exonerate who died soon after his release, partly due to poor medical treatment while in prison) and more.
Also tying in nicely are a few Updates in the lives of the film's exonerates (10:35); some accomplishments include a marriage, an engagement, the birth of a child, a book release, work on the film's soundtrack, a college graduation and several others. These serve as an excellent second coda to the film, though additional updates are occasionally posted on The Innocence Project's website (linked below).
Next up is a hodgepodge of media-related extras, including Pearl Jam Concert Footage with exonerates Wilton Dedge, Tommy Doswell and Vince Moto on stage (7:12, above left); a "Larry King Live" Excerpt (7:12) featuring Dennis Maher, Herman Atkins, Wilton Dedge and Vincent Moto; Festival and Premiere Footage from Sundance and the film's theatrical debut (3 clips, 18:09 total); a clip from "MTV Newsbeat" (1:07) and additional Media/Press Footage (3:44). The majority of these clips simply repeat stories from the film, but it's great to see that After Innocence and its stars got so much exposure.
Closing things out are a few Weblinks and Contact Information for viewers looking to get involved, as well as the film's excellent Theatrical Trailer (2:10). All bonus features are presented in 1.33:1 and non-anamorphic widescreen formats.
Bold and attention-grabbing, After Innocence shows us real people that didn't deserve the punishment they received. Their stories of injustice may be hard to stomach, but it's the abandonment after exoneration that really poured salt in their wounds. Luckily, this call to action shows us that progress is being made---and though there's a long road ahead, programs like The Innocence Project are taking the biggest steps forward. New Yorker Video's DVD package is decent enough, combining a basic technical presentation with an assortment of proactive bonus features. Overall, there's more than enough here to make After Innocence worth hunting down. Firmly Recommended.
Related Link: Official Site of The Innocence Project
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects and works in a local gallery. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, second-guessing himself and writing things in third person.