The Penalty Is a Film That Must Be Seen

Given that a state sanctioned policy such as the death penalty is carried out in the name of the public -- yet has operated under a shroud of secrecy for far too long -- it is fitting that someone should examine the nuts and bolts of the machinery of death.
12/02/2014 06:08 pm ET Updated Feb 01, 2015

The U.S. death penalty has received a great deal of attention and scrutiny these days. And the problems are many.

This year, six innocent men were released from death row -- some of them spending up to four decades in prison for murders they did not commit -- raising the total number of exonerated death row survivors in America to 149. Hundreds more innocent people may remain. In addition, botched executions in a number of states have placed the spotlight on a form of punishment regarded as torture. Meanwhile, following a state appeals court decision denying a stay, Texas planned a December 3 execution date for Scott Panetti. Panetti, who has suffered from schizophrenia for 30 years, hears voices, believes he has a listening device implanted in his tooth, and thinks he will be executed to stop him from preaching the Gospel.

In light of the problems with the death penalty and the application of criminal justice, a small group of filmmakers decided to make a film, The Penalty, about a system of killing that remains a mystery to so many.

Last year, the team traveled across America, filming 10 death row survivors for the documentary project One For Ten, named for the one innocent person released from death row for every 10 people executed in the U.S. The critically-acclaimed project helped audiences understand the flaws of a system that would allow innocent people to be sent to their deaths.

"But we left that project with many more questions than we anticipated," said Will Francome of Reel Nice, the London-based production company behind One For Ten. "What about the costs of executions? Is death penalty use distributed equally across States that use it? What toll does it take on all involved, not just those on the row?"

In an effort to answer these questions, Francome and his colleagues decided to make The Penalty, a 90-minute feature length documentary which is halfway through filming. And the team has initiated a campaign on Kickstarter for supporters to help fund the project and ensure its completion.

This film attempts to go beyond capital punishment as an abstract and distant legal concept and delve into the human toll exacted by the death penalty -- the politics behind it and the people who are affected, including victims' families, attorneys and innocent men and women, and the priorities society makes in order to perpetuate this regime of government-sponsored homicide.

Given that a state sanctioned policy such as the death penalty is carried out in the name of the public -- yet has operated under a shroud of secrecy for far too long -- it is fitting that someone should examine the nuts and bolts of the machinery of death. Often, proponents of this ultimate form of punishment will argue it is necessary as a deterrent, and as a means for society to dispense with its worst elements.

Yet, those who trust the system may not know what really happens when we throw people away, or the toll that the process takes on lives across the nation. What if the institutions we have relied upon for so long do not deliver the true justice we have thought, but rather are costly, corrupt schemes that are prone to error?

The Penalty is a documentary that we all must support.