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Tuesday, September 28, 2010
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Last night, following a special screening of “Conviction” (Fox Searchlight, 10/15, trailer) in Boston that was put together for The New England Innocence Project, I moderated a Q&A with the film’s director, Tony Goldwyn, a class act who I know through our common alma mater; one of its stars, Sam Rockwell, who plays Kenny Waters, a man who was sentenced to life in prison for a crime he did not commit; and the woman who inspired it in the first place, Betty Anne Waters, Kenny’s sister, who spent 18 years of her life fighting to exonerate him.

As you can see in the videos of the Q&A at the bottom of this post, the threesome were greeted with a rousing standing ovation. I kicked things off by asking Tony and Betty Anne to describe their epic journey to bring this film to the big screen, which took over nine years; Sam to describe the dual responsibility of portraying such a complex character and doing so opposite a group of magnificent actresses that another critic has described as “the female version of ‘The Expendables'”; and all three to share what they hoped people will take away from seeing the film.

Audience questions included a few clunkers — one guy told Rockwell that he was his favorite character actor “barring Stanley Tucci” (before asking for his autograph), while another rambled incoherently before Tony politely tried to respond (only to have the guy interrupt him) — but also a few that led to rather moving exchanges:

  • [Spoiler alert.] Finally, one person wanted to know what became of Kenny after he was released from prison, and Betty Anne was only able to start the story (“Kenny had a lot of bad luck in his life…”) before becoming emotional and asking Tony to finish it (just sixth months after his release he was taking a shortcut through some woods and fell 15 feet off a wall, sustaining head injuries that proved fatal).

While Betty Anne is pleased that Massachusetts does not have the death penalty (since her brother would almost certainly have died in prison if it did), she noted her displeasure that the state “does not have a statute for preserving DNA evidence or for access to it,” noting that the same is true of only one other state, Oklahoma. She urges people to learn about and support The Innocence Project by visiting InnocenceProject.org.

Photo: Sam Rockwell and Tony Goldwyn on the set of “Conviction.” Credit: Fox Searchlight.
Videos: Scott Feinberg interviews Sam Rockwell, Betty Anne Waters, and Tony Goldwyn. Credit: Saul Wilson.

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  • Eaciccantelli

    Kenny’s story is amazing. I hope the movie will heighten awareness of this problem. As for changing the laws about DNA evidence in Massechusettes I am sure that if there were laws protecting that it certainly would lower the incidences of innocent people who die in prison there, but I can also tell you that when there is a serious wrong committed by the state, they will destroy any and all evidence without conscience, simply because they have the power to do so. This happened in my fiance’s case in Arizona. He was removed from death row in 1989 and we are grateful he was not murdered, as I am sure this was one of the things that helped keep Kenny going, but he wound up doing 25 years for a crime he did not commit. There was very little help for him, but he did have more than most. I admire Bette Anne for her ability to not just love, but to demonstrate the act of love. Feeling love is the easy part. Making another human being a priority in your life for the sake of the things that no one can see (truth, justice, integrity, honor…etc), is not so easy and she is a fine example and role model. Bless you Bette Anne. I know Kenny’s life will make a difference for many people in many different ways. You’re an awesome woman. It is people like you that give people like me the strength to keep taliking about this problem that has been ignored for way too long now. Even though I am grateful for all of the advantages Larry Joe has had, after you go through this journey with anyone, it is hard to just walk away from the issues at hand that continue to feed the cycle of crime and violence within families, and within our nation.

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