2004's Aging Out was a rather unique documentary about teens outgrowing the foster care system. Foster children spend their formative years with very little consistency in their lives...but after the age of 18, they're expected to face the independence of adulthood all the same. One of Aging Out's three subjects was Risa Bejarano: this young Latina went through at least six families growing up, but she still managed to retain a generally positive outlook and perform well in high school. Earning multiple scholarships during her senior year, Aging Out showed the young woman at a crossroads: with higher education staring her down amidst financial trouble, a broken childhood and regular drug use, she was certainly an underdog worth rooting for.
Soon after the film's completion, Risa was murdered in a Los Angeles alley. He body was riddled with bullets, rendering the young woman almost unrecognizable. The accused murderer was Juan Chavez, a local gang leader; the motive was Risa's knowledge of a crime that had taken place days earlier. Facing multiple charges of murder, the 18 year-old Chavez eventually had his day in court...and as luck would have it, Aging Out became the prosecution's secret weapon. Armed with the documentary's sympathetic look at the murdered young woman, it soon became clear that they were pushing hard for the death penalty.
No Tomorrow exists because filmmakers Roger Weisberg and Vanessa Roth (co-directors of Aging Out) felt that a follow-up was necessary, and they were right. Both Weisberg and Roth are against the death penalty, so it's no surprise that they opposed Aging Out's role in the murder trial. Using footage from Aging Out to fill in a few blanks, No Tomorrow is an examination of the murder, the ensuing trial and the death penalty in general. To the film's credit, both sides of the fence are given equal time and consideration...and rather than scream from the rooftops, it presents an even-handed selection of interviews with relatives of Bejarano and Chavez, as well as members of the jury, defense and prosecution.
It's a gripping documentary from start to finish, marred only slightly by the filmmakers' decision to include graphic photos of the murder victims. It may increase the film's sense of realness and authenticity, but it also seems a bit sensational given the film's general anti-violence undertones. In any case, the DVD package by Docurama offers mild support for the main feature, pairing a decent technical presentation with a few appropriate extras. For serious documentary lovers, No Tomorrow is a fantastic film that's worth owning and passing around. Let's take a closer look, shall we?
Presented in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio and enhanced for 16x9 displays, No Tomorrow looks pretty good from start to finish. The film's natural color palette has been preserved nicely, while image detail varies depending on the source material. Clips from the film Aging Out (which can also be partially found as a bonus feature) are presented in letterboxed widescreen. For the most part, viewers shouldn't find much to complain about; overall, this is on par with what modern documentaries should look like.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo mix is low-key but still has its moments. Separation is fine and the talking-head interviews come through clearly, especially the most recent ones. Occasional music cues sound full without fighting for attention with the dialogue. Unfortunately, no optional subtitles or Closed Captions are offered during the main feature or any of the extras.
A few other extras are also on board, including the film's Theatrical Trailer (1:00), a text-based Biography for co-director Roger Weisberg and a short Promo for other Docurama releases. Though a feature-length commentary (or a shorter interview) with the directors or some of the "cast" would've been nice, No Tomorrow does a fine job of standing with minimal support.
It may take a toll on your emotions, but the thought-provoking No Tomorrow is a fantastic documentary that explores both sides of a very human issue. Though it tends to repeat itself near the ending, this documentary's even-handed tone and deliberate pacing should please fans of the genre. Docurama's DVD package is small but well-rounded, pairing a solid technical presentation with at least one important bonus feature. A more substantial package would've helped the overall score, but No Tomorrow stands quite well on its own two feet. Firmly Recommended, although more sensitive viewers may want to rent this one first.
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.