Thursday, February 23, 2017

Execution or exoneration?

This film was made to tell a captivating story. The Fear of 13 is a documentary starring Nick Yarris, a convicted murderer, serving 105 years to life on death row. The director of the movie, David Sington, felt that the world needed to hear Yarris’ story. Not necessarily because of the context but because of how the story was told. Sington states, “I think what attracted me about the story was not the issue of guilt or innocence, or even the death penalty, but the fact that it was somebody who had transformed their life by reading – and learning by reading.” They say, innocent until proven guilty but the jury was quick to convict Yarris even though he may not have committed the crime. The documentary is a monologue of Nick’s life played by Nick. The targeted audience is really anyone who is willing to listen, those looking to reform the prison system, those interested in justice and those who have been in Yarris’ shoes. Yarris was the 140th prisoner to be exonerated after the development of DNA testing. Currently, Yarris is 1 out of 15 Americans who has ever been released from death row thanks to DNA testing. A similar story came about in 2015 with the release of a TV series called Making a Murder. The plot of the show revolves around Steven Avery, a man who spent 25 years in prison, for a rape he didn't commit. People are intrigued by the phenomenon of those who are wrongfully accused; it is apparent that something is wrong with our criminal justice system.
     It is absolutely incredible how developments in science have made such a large impact in our criminal justice system. When Yarris tells the story of his conviction, it is absolutely shocking that he was sentenced to death on the evidence that was given. To consider someone guilty there needs to be substantial evidence, witnesses, a murder weapon, DNA, a flawed alibi and so much more—yet in the 1980s that wasn’t necessarily the case. Yarris was convicted solely on the fact that he and the killer shared type B+ blood, which isn’t very convincing evidence when 1 in 12 Americans have B+ blood. If Yarris was convicted on his blood type alone, imagine how many others have been wrongfully convicted. This documentary immediately reminded me of the Innocents Project. The Innocence Project is an organization that strives to reverse the wrong doings of our criminal justice system by freeing those who have been wrongfully convicted like Yarris


            This documentary is so unique because it’s one narrator, one life story and one perspective. Yarris is more than eloquent in his story telling, he is absolutely captivating. It was in prison that Yarris began to master the art of story telling through reading and self-teaching. Wow—it really paid off! To sit there for 90 minutes and listen to this alleged murderer tell his story was so enticing. You wonder how could this well-spoken intelligent man be a cold-blooded murderer and a rapist? Yarris does an amazing job of telling his life story from childhood, to conviction, back to his teenage years and everything in between. The story isn’t chronological but it is so easy to follow because Yarris is so captivating. Not only is Yarris well-spoken but he is also transparent as we watch him cry and laugh. There is something about the solidarity of Yarris that will give you chills. Here you are one on one with a “murderer” yet you trust him, believe in him and you ache with him. Along with the solo narration, the documentary features other unique elements. For example: the film lacks any animations, drawings or re-enactments. The film is literally Yarris sitting in front of a black screen with an occasional image of a jail cell or a young boy posing as Yarris but the majority of the film is Yarris speaking. The director made this choice because Yarris’ words are descriptive enough to paint a clear picture—having no need for re-enactments or animations.
            Overall I was blown away by the eloquence of Yarris’ story telling. He was descriptive, honest and so raw in his narration. You really empathize with him as he takes you through his life journey. I found that the untraditional elements of this documentary were really successful and enjoyable as this was the first monologue documentary I’ve ever watched. It is safe to say that I wasn’t the only one who found this documentary so incredible, in 2015 at the London Film Festive The Fear of 13 was nominated for Best Documentary Film. I would rate this film 5/5.

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