In a surprising and unexpected move by members of the Mexican film community that will surely stir additional controversy to an already highly polemic case, a letter signed by a noted group of documentary filmmakers (including directors, producers and film professionals) was made public in local newspapers and blogs this morning in which they claim their serious concern for the precedent that the box-office success Presumed Guilty / Presunto culpable (pictured) is setting in the country.
The main issue for the signing filmmakers is whether freedom of speech and the right for information should be above than the individual rights of a person. "A documentary film should not be a tool for revenge, not even historic. The documentary filmmaker is not a judge and reality is not comprised of goodand bad people," says the letter.
Presumed Guilty a film by Roberto Hernández, Geoffrey Smith and Layda Negrete tells the story of Antonio Zúñiga, a young man who was wrongly imprisoned for a murder he didn't commit. After its release last February, the film rapidly went to become the highest grossing Mexican documentary ever. The film got additional attention after a federal judge issued a provisional suspension to stop the theatrical release of the film based on the complaint filed by Víctor Manuel Reyes, the witness of the case who argued that his image had been used without his consent.
The filmmakers and the film's distributors argued in their defense that since the filming happened within a public space, that being a courthouse, they had the constitutional right to use the image of the people present. The film was removed from Mexican screens for three days until the exhibition ban was lifted by another judicial order declaring the film's removal from screens as "detrimental to public interest and social order." However the case was still unfolding and the same judge who had originally issued the provisional suspension had asked to camouflage the image of Reyes in the film.
The filmmakers in their letter support the right of Reyes "to not appear and be identified in the film, or alternatively, that the documents authorizing the use of his voice and image in the film are formalized." They argue that in this particular case, "it is clear that in order to inform about the vices of the Mexican Judiciary System is not essential to portrait the witness in such a mean way, that is also putting his life at risk." The letter was signed by noted filmmakers such as Nicolás Pereda (Summer of Goliath), Everardo González (Old Thieves), Matías Meyer (The Cramp), Rigoberto Perezcano (Norteado), Lucía Gajá (My Life Inside), Francisco Vargas (The Violin), Jorge Michel Grau (We Are What We Are) and Julian Hernández (Raging Sun, Raging Sky), among others.
To read the full letter (in Spanish) click here.