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Director: Deborah Esquenazi
Film Details: 91 minutes, 2016, USA, color, DCP
World Premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival and Winner of the Critics Choice Documentary Award for Best First Documentary (TV/Streaming)
Director Deborah Esquenazi will attend in person for discussion.
About the Film:
Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four excavates the nightmarish persecution of Elizabeth Ramirez, Cassandra Rivera, Kristie Mayhugh, and Anna Vasquez — four Latina lesbians wrongfully convicted of gang-raping two little girls in San Antonio, Texas. The film begins its journey inside a Texas prison, after these women have spent nearly a decade behind bars. They were 19 and 20 years at the time that allegations surfaced.
Using the women’s home video footage from 21 years ago combined with recent verité footage and interviews, the film explores their personal narratives and their search for exculpatory evidence to help their losing criminal trials. 15 years into their journey, director Deborah S. Esquenazi captures an on-camera recantation by one of the initial outcry victims, now 25 years old although 7 at the time of the investigation. This brings the filmmaker into the role of investigator along with attorneys at the Innocence Project, who are just beginning their quest for truth in this case.
Together with attorneys, the film culminates with the women being released from prison to await their searing new exoneration hearings in San Antonio. Helming new legislation, this is the first case in U.S. history that allows wrongfully convicted innocents to challenge convictions based on ‘Junk Science’, or debunked forensics. As lesbian low income women of color, these women hold intersecting identities that make them the most vulnerable to incarceration and juror bias. This under-reported injustice is actually widespread: Latina women represent one of the growing populations heading into prison. In addition, most reported exonerations and wrongful convictions focus solely on men and cases involving women, let alone lesbian women of color are largely under reported. The film unravels the interplay of mythology, homophobia, and prosecutorial fervor that led to their indictment.
UPDATE: The San Antonio Four have been exonerated! The film was cited among the factors that turned the tide in their favor!
About the Filmmaker:
Deborah S. Esquenazi is an Austin-based documentary filmmaker + radio producer, instructor, and journalist. Her work explores the intersections of mythology & justice, identity & power. She is a: Sundance Creative Producing Lab Fellow, 2015. Firelight Media Producers’ Lab Fellow, 2015. IFP Spotlight on Docs, 2015. Artist on two Artplace America commissions, 2015. Sundance Documentary Film Fellow, 2014. She has received funding from Humanities Texas, Sundance Institute | John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Fund, Chicken & Egg Pictures, Astraea Global Arts Fund, Paul Robeson Fund for Independent Media, and many others. Her debut feature, Southwest of Salem, received international attention for its initial investigation into the high-profile ‘San Antonio Four’ case and has been written about in Forbes Magazine, The NY Times, The Texas Observer, The Marshall Project, and many other publications. To learn more about her work, www.DeborahEsquenazi.com
About The DocYard:
For decades, Boston has been a center for documentary filmmaking. It is a place where students come to learn and experiment, where some of documentary’s giants are teaching and creating new work, and where the craft is continuously nurtured and expanded. Today’s filmmakers are breaking new ground that has its foundation, more often than not, in Boston’s rich documentary legacy.
Celebrating what is innovative, interesting, and inspiring in documentary, The DocYard is a bi-weekly film and discussion series that takes place every other Monday. Their goal is to grow a vibrant, creative community for Boston’s filmmakers, film students and film lovers through each of these special events.