VIDEO: PRISON EXONEREES ENDORSE “CONVICTION” DURING MOVING Q&A
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:
- Dennis Maher, who served 19 years of a life sentence before being exonerated by The New England Innocence Project, became emotional while asking, “Sam, how hard was it to portray an innocent person in prison? I lived it, and you portrayed it good.”
- Fernando Bermudez, who served 18 years of a 23 years-to-life sentence before being exonerated by The New England Innocence Project, became emotional while telling his story and offering to help spread awareness in any way he can.
- [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.