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Filmmaker Letter

Filmmaker Letter


by writer/director Chinonye Chukwu

I am excited and honored to share my film, Clemency, with you. Making the film has been a multi-year soul journey that I hope reflects powerfully in the work for you.

I was inspired to make this film the morning after a black man, named Troy Davis, was executed in a Georgia State prison in 2011. Leading up to his execution, hundreds of thousands of people protested against it, including a handful of retired wardens. These wardens urged the Georgia Governor to grant Troy clemency, not just on the grounds of his potential innocence, but also because of the emotional and psychological consequences they knew killing Troy would have on those sanctioned to do so. After Troy was executed and the sounds of the protestors continued ringing in my ears, I couldn’t help but wonder: What are those emotional and psychological consequences the wardens spoke of? What is it like when your livelihood is tied to the taking of human life?

I spent over four years researching for Clemency. I spoke with six different wardens, interviewed corrections officers, death row lawyers, Lieutenants and a Director of Corrections about their experiences working in prisons and in death row facilities. I spoke with men currently on death row and to one man who was exonerated from death row, after being incarcerated for 28 years for a crime he did not commit.

Wardens, former death row lawyers and several formerly incarcerated individuals read my script and gave me detailed feedback. I also volunteered for nonprofit legal organizations on several clemency cases for women serving life sentences. My work on these cases included shooting the video testimonies of co-defendants to be used during clemency hearings; shooting and editing individual video testimonies for clemency applications to be sent to the Ohio governor; and creating a PSA campaign. This really informed my grounding Clemency in the ecosystem of humanities tied to incarceration.

I believe Clemency observes a world that few audiences have gotten a realistic look into. My hope is that the film will inspire people to connect to the humanities that exist between prison walls.

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