Witch Hunt (2008)

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The story of several families who have their lives destroyed when their hometown is whipped into a frenzy by allegations of child molestation.


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Credited cast:
Jack Cummings ...
Himself - Accused of Child Molestation
Jackie Cummings ...
Herself - Accused of Child Molestation
Allen Grafton ...
Himself - Accuser
Ed Jagels ...
Himself - Kern County District Attorney (archive footage)
Brenda Kniffen ...
Herself - Accused of Child Molestation
Scott Kniffen ...
Himself - Accused of Child Molestation
Carla Modahl ...
Herself - Daughter of Jeffrey Modahl
Jeffrey Modahl ...
Himself - Accused of Child Molestation
Victor Monge ...
Himself - Accuser
Himself - Narrator
Marcella Pitts ...
Herself - Accused of Child Molestation
Rick Pitts ...
Himself - Accused of Child Molestation
Kathleen Ridolfi ...
Herself - Northern California Innocence Project (as Kathleen 'Cookie' Ridolfi)
Ed Sampley ...
Himself - Accuser
Linda Starr ...
Herself - Northern California Innocence Project


Executive Producer Sean Penn presents "Witch Hunt," a gripping indictment of the American justice system told through the lens of one small town. Voters in Bakersfield, California elected a tough on crime district attorney into office for more than 25 years. During his tenure he convicted dozens of innocent working class moms and dads. They went to prison, some for decades, before being exonerated. He remains in office today. This story on a micro level mirrors what the US has experienced over the last eight years. When power is allowed to exist without oversight civil rights are in jeopardy. Written by Dana Nachman

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Some convictions are criminal


Documentary | Crime

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Release Date:

2 November 2008 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

An American Witch Hunt  »

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Sound Mix:

(Dolby 5.1)|



Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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Did You Know?


[first lines]
title cards: There are more than 2 million people in American prisons today. This film is dedicated to the thousands of them who are actually innocent.
Narrator: [narration] The images of your life, picture them, on your refrigerator, in albums, frames. They capture every stage, change, celebration. Without them, how much do you remember? How much do you rely on these photos to remind you of the journey you've taken in life. Now imagine them gone. This is the first photo John Stoll has of is life. The ...
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User Reviews

Background, please
28 April 2009 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

Although this film is a powerful indictment of legal injustice, and the criminal destruction of families and lives, much of the ground it covers already was examined by a "Dateline" episode in 2004, where the horrendous persecution of John Stoll and the other Bakersfield unfortunates finally was exposed.

It would be better to look back at the genesis of this vast "moral panic" that so gripped us from the 1980s to early '90s - since the Bakersfield case was but one of many. The most famous, at the time, was the McMartin Day School case in Southern California, in which toddler caregivers were accused of satanism and child sexual abuse on "evidence" that was nothing more than fairy tales spun from thin air. In all, other cases wrecked dozens if not hundreds of persons, mostly one or two people at a time, far from media attention, hauled up on the most outrageous of allegations. As noted in the movie, scars and devastation this nonsense left behind is unhealed today.

There is a reason, I think, why the background of this hysteria is so deliberately obscured: The idea of widespread child abuse, which mutated into fantastic, lurid accusations of "satanism" and ritual murder, was fabricated and popularized by radical feminists in the 1970s as a means of attacking "the patriarchy" that dominated Western society from "our house" to Bauhaus to the White House. Broadcast via indulgent, even solicitous media and academia, most of the country and the world believed adult males committed child sexual abuse as commonly as they wore shoes. In a reversal of how this trendy bit of ugly slander gained traction through incessant publicity and repetition, its progenitors are protected today. The subject merely has been dropped into the memory hole; as relentlessly presented the crazy charge was then, so energetically ignored the entire episode is today. Gloria Steinem and Ms. magazine? Not a subject for discussion. Robin Morgan? Mustn't be interviewed. You want to hold responsible the counterintuitive authors of this toxic blueprint? What are you - reactionary?

For the victims of this genuine witch hunt in Bakersfield, there is another reason this tragic subject isn't the subject of documentaries, films and television miniseries - and rarely mentioned at all except in courageous films like this one, and that's because the working-class people who spoke in drawls and drove pickup trucks were the victims, not the villains.

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