Independent Lens on PBS, streaming throughout May
As we learn in the closing minutes of Jamie Meltzer’s powerhouse documentary True Conviction, in 2016, 166 innocent people were released from US prisons. On average, the exonerees spent 15 years behind bars for crimes they did not commit. And some haven’t fared that well. Max Soffar, for example, died from cancer on Texas’ death row for a triple homicide in 1980, despite no physical evidence tying him to the crime: no DNA; no witnesses. Until his last breath, Soffar maintained his innocence and looked to a life of freedom that never came.
But his case did not go entirely unnoticed. On hand to help Soffar while he was alive wasn’t a lofty civil-rights organization or a high-powered law firm to right this wrong. Rather, it was three ex-inmates (Christopher Scott, Johnnie Lindsey, and Steven Phillips, pictured above), themselves imprisoned for crimes they didn’t commit, who offered Soffar a lifeline. Since their release, these three wise and wounded freedom fighters have been devoted to giving a voice to the voiceless.
In the best documentary so far this year, director Jamie Meltzer is fearless with his camera—holding tight close-ups of his subjects’ pained faces while allowing the narrative to unfold slowly. Though Scott, Lindsey, and Phillips are far from perfect (Phillips is rearrested during filming on a drug charge), viewers navigate these often-dangerous waters with three flawed and funny guides.
And they have an uphill climb to face. Prison statistics are sobering: The United States locks up more people, per capita, than any other nation. Roughly 2.3 million are incarcerated, according to the Prison Policy Initiative. Establishing the truly innocent among those millions is impossible to determine. But even if Scott, Lindsey, and Phillips fail in their mission to free the wrongfully imprisoned, they succeed in providing hope to those who need it. They breathe new life into Matthew 25: “[For I was] in prison and you visited me.”
CNN and CNN.com
Looking into the warm and humble face of Pope Francis, you’d think the papacy is immune to corruption. Far from it. During his reign in the 14th century, Pope Urban VI had several cardinals tortured. In 897, Pope Stephen VI had his predecessor exhumed, tried, and thrown into the Tiber for papal missteps. And Pope John XV brazenly distributed Church wealth to relatives in the 10th century.
In CNN’s absorbing, sometimes shocking, docuseries Pope: The Most Powerful Man in History, channel surfers are given a historical glimpse behind Vatican doors. There, drama unfolds. From Pope Alexander VI’s pursuit of power during the Renaissance all the way to Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation in 2013, this impeccably researched series—narrated by Liam Neeson—is worth your time.
For Catholics with a love of Church history, Pope is a trove of absorbing information, but producers are careful not to exploit its subjects for cheap thrills. The position of pope might be one that is sanctioned by God, but it is occupied by human beings. That means sin and grace are juggled in equal measure.