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"The Trials of Darryl Hunt" is a feature documentary about a brutal rape/murder case and a wrongly convicted man, Darryl Hunt, who spent nearly twenty years in prison for a crime he did not commit. Both a social justice story and a personally driven narrative, the film chronicles this capital case from 1984 through 2004. With exclusive footage from two decades, the film frames the judicial and emotional response to a chilling crime - and the implications that reverberate from Hunt's conviction - against a backdrop of class and racial bias in the South and in the American criminal justice system. This documentary is the culmination of ten years of research and filming. In 1993, inspired by claims of injustice and police conspiracy, the filmmakers began to shoot in North Carolina. Working from a mix of formats (16mm and 24P video) the film melds the visceral reality of a murder case with first person accounts and cinematic imagery, illuminating perceptions and memories of events as they... Written by
On August 10, 1984, Deborah Sykes, a young, white newspaper editor living in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, was brutally raped and murdered by an unknown assailant. Suspicion quickly fell on a black man by the name of Darryl Hunt, even though no weapon or physical evidence linking him to the crime was ever brought forth by the police investigating the case. This meant that Hunt was essentially convicted of 1st degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment solely on the basis of what even the most disinterested of observers would conclude was eyewitness testimony of a shockingly shoddy nature. Due to the racist overtones that inevitably attach themselves to such a crime, the case quickly became a political cause celebre in the press, leading to stark racial divisions in the community and to various retrials over the years.
Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg, the makers of "The Trials of Darryl Hunt," began actively chronicling the events of this story at around the time of the second trial. They've combined file footage - i.e. news reports and interviews - from the time of the original trial with what they themselves have filmed over a decade and a half of involvement with the case. The result is an eye-opening but often depressing look at the sorry state of the legal system in this country. Yet, the movie is also a celebration of those who never gave up fighting for the cause of justice not merely for this one man and others like him but for the system itself.
Most impressive of all is Hunt himself, who despite being incarcerated for a crime he didn't commit, has managed to hold onto a purity of spirit that shines forth through his every word and action. I doubt many of us could endure such an ordeal and still emerge this untainted and optimistic about life. But somehow Hunt has.
This tremendously moving film will have you thinking long and hard about just how difficult it can be for a single individual to achieve true justice in this world, but it will also leave you with the hope that, thanks to people like Darryl Hunt and those - both black and white - who have stood and fought alongside him for so long now, the situation just might get a whole lot better in the future.
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