At the end of a recent screening of my film La Prenda in Caracas, Venezuela, a man came to me to thank me for the film. His eyes full of sadness struck me. He told me that day about his son Juan Pablo, who had been murdered in April of 2017. He gave me his contact information and told me he would like to share his story if I had time. I called him that night told him I would come by the next morning. But my schedule changed that day and what was supposed to be an early interview turned out to be the last thing I did that night.
I arrived really late but Jose and his wife Elvira had patiently waited for me in their half-lit house in Caracas. That night, I stepped into a house out which life had been sucked. Since their only son Juan Pablo has been killed on April 26, 2017 during a rally against the government of Nicolas Maduro, Jose and Elvira have been left behind with their boundless and uncontrollable grief. They are waging a lonely fight for justice. The day we met, the lawyer representing them and other families of young people who have allegedly been killed by the Venezuelan armed forces at rallies in 2017, had himself been killed. They were with another mother, Zulmith, whose only son had also been killed that year. The fought through tears to tell me the story of 20 year-old Juan Pablo, a young basketball star in his country. They showed me his room, his bag full of books he was carrying the day he was killed. They introduced me to the 6 stray dogs and 7 stray cats he had rescued before his death. They told me the story of a young man with a bright future, who lost his life for daring to raise his voice.
Jose and Elvira are now financing their fight for justice with the money they had saved to pay for his studies. You can read their story in Le Matin Dimanche below.
Supermarkets are empty. Parts of Caracas are in the dark. The brand new currency has no real value because of a rampant inflation. As Nicolas Maduro starts his second term as president today in Venezuela, the situation is dire in the South American country. Read my latest story from Caracas, that ran today in 24 Heures and Tribune de Genève in Switzerland.
Should a film aim to bypass festivals and be released directly on Netflix? This is the question the major Swiss daily newspaper 24 Heures asked Jean-Cosme Delaloye, the director of STRAY BULLET. His response was unequivocally yes for his latest film. Since STRAY BULLET was released on Netflix, the feedback has been huge. It is incredible to see on Twitter the amount of people the film touched and how far it has traveled in the U.S. One of the main participants of the film has been invited to give talks to college students. People, who had relatives hurt by stray bullets, reached out to us. It has been an unbelievable experience to witness how wide the audience for this film has been. Some films might be more suited for festivals like Jean-Cosme Delaloye’s previous film - LA PRENDA - had been. But the Netflix release has been absolutely fantastic for STRAY BULLET. If you have not watched the film here, you can do so here.
I write this note from an airport lounge on the way to yet another story of injustice - or justice depending on which angle you look at it. As always when I leave to do a difficult story, I am anxious to get access to it and then to get to the bottom of it. But tonight, more than anything else, I am inspired by what happened since my latest documentary film Stray Bullet launched on Netflix on July 15: https://www.netflix.com/title/80998908
4 years ago, we set out to tell the story of a young girl - Genesis - who had been hit by a stray bullet in the streets of Paterson. When their daughter passed away, Genesis' parents lost their source of inspiration, love and joy. And then, they lost everything they had built in Paterson. While they were trying to hold on to Genesis' memories, they opened welcomed us into their life. I will always remain deeply grateful for their courage and for their trust.
Genesis' parents needed to have that faith because they knew we were trying to tell the story of the stray bullet that had killed their daughter. That meant looking at the other side and going into the streets that had been fatal to Genesis. They did not know what would come out of that. Nor did the mothers, the relatives and the friends of the two young men who were accused of killing Genesis. These people showed the same courage when they too decided to share their story with us. We are really grateful to them too.
Stray Bullet is meant to be the mirror of what is going in the streets and in the courtroom. The film aims to show how the justice system and the community as whole is trying to deal with a stray bullet that killed an innocent 12-year-old girl on July 5, 2014, in Paterson.
In Stray Bullet, there is no hero and no villain. No one is trying to change the world, because everyone is trying to cope with it first. Stray Bullet is a journalistic film more than anything else. We did not try to make art out of the tragic story of Genesis, we just wanted to keep it as raw as possible. We wanted to show all sides, while making sure no one would be able to reach the closing credits without knowing who Genesis was.
We would not have been able to do it without the help of the participants in the film. We were able to speak to guys who have had to learn from a young age how to survive in the tough streets of Paterson. Some decided to tell their story methodically. Others like Knowledgeborn decided to "spit" it.
Tomorrow, I will be in the middle of Guatemala to cover another story of separation. I will hug the woman who agreed to share it with me and I will thank her, hoping she will be reunited with her children soon. But tonight, I first want to thank the participants of Stray Bullet. And I am thinking of Genesis who would have been 16 this year.
When you start working on a documentary film, you have to be ready for a marathon during which you will have to deal with highs, lows, intense emotions, rejections, frustrations, anguish, excitement. You will have to hustle, convince, think, imagine, find solutions and take risks.
I started working on LA PRENDA - THE PAWN six years ago. At the time, I had just finished BY MY SIDE, a film I produced myself. I was screening it at the Icaro Festival in Guatemala in November 2011 when I decided to do a follow up on an audio documentary on kidnappings in Guatremala I had done for Swiss Public Radio. I met Rodolfo Diaz, a lawyer of the Sobrevivientes Foundation. He was representing the family of Kelly Diaz, a teenager who had been kidnapped for a ransom and ultimately been killed.
When I heard about the brutality of that case, I thought that it would have made headlines around the world if it had happened in the US or in Europe. Before she was killed, Kelly had been tortured and raped. Her pelvis had been fractured. Her body was found days later in the woods.
I decided to start doing a film on Kelly's story, without thinking twice about it. The next morning, I hired a cameraman and we drove 4 hours through Guatemala to Quetzaltenango, where I met with Karin Gramajo. Karin is Kelly's cousin and she has been fighting for justice for Kelly for the past 7 years despite the threats she has had to deal with. Karin should have been a lawyer but could not afford to finish her studies. So she helps people with their legal fights against the widespread impunity in Guatemala. If Karin hadn't agreed to be in La Prenda, there would have been no film. But she did agree and we embarked on an incredible journey together.
We were soon joined by Astrid Elias, a courageous young woman living in Los Angeles, who had been kidnapped and raped as a child in Guatemala. I remember the call I received one day from Azalea Vazquez, a witness in Astrid's political asylum case in Los Angeles. Azalea had heard I was looking for another case of kidnapping for my film and she decided to reach out to me. In a documentary film, there are moments like that. You feel you are stuck because the story is so sensitive that people can't share it. And suddenly a door opens. Thanks to Azalea, I was able to speak with Andrea Garcia, Astrid's lawyer, and with Astrid herself. Astrid is a shy young woman, who had been kidnapped and raped in Quetzaltenango when she was 14 years old. After a ransom was paid by her family, she was released and stayed at her grandparents' home without leaving. Once she started going out again a year later, she was threatened again. So her parents who lived in Los Angeles, decided to make her come to the United States with her younger sister. But Astrid was caught by the border patrol while she was trying to cross into the United States and she was facing deportation when I first met her. While fighting for her life, she decided to let me document her ordeal.
In a world where journalists are under constant attack and ignorantly labeled as fake news by some people, Astrid gave me the opportunity to go to the bottom of her story over the next 2 years. When she was facing deportation, we were there. When she was praying for a reprieve, we were there. When she went to her final court hearing, we were there. Her family embraced us. They showed us a courage I have seldom been exposed to. They trusted with a story, their story.
A film is a team. And thanks to all the people who decided to work on it, produce it, support it and finance it, we were able to get it done in 2 years. The response has been incredible. It premiered in 2015 at Hot Docs and at the prestigious Guadalajara Film festival. It screened in some of the best festivals in the world such as Thessaloniki, Mill Valley, Havana, FIFDH, San Sebastian. It screened at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood, at Lincoln Center in New York as part of the Women in the World Summit. Astrid got to share the stage with Meryl Streep, America Ferrara, Microsoft exec Brad Smith and many others. The film won several awards and it is still going around the world as part of the FIFDH on tour. Last month, it screened in Guatemala and sparked a debate on human rights and justice with a Guatemalan Supreme Court judge.
Despite its big success in festivals, it took time for La Prenda - The Pawn to be broadcast on TV. That changed on May 14, 2018, as the film screened on Swiss Public Television RTS in Switzerland. As a filmmaker, I feel I finally reached the end of the marathon of La Prenda. I can let this film go even if Kelly, Astrid, Micaela and their families will always remain in my heart.
As a documentary filmmaker, you never stop running. But you will always cross paths with people that inspire you and push you forward. My next goal is to finish my new film's marathon. I am getting close to it as we will announce a major US release for Stray Bullet in the next few weeks.
Last week, I worked on a complicated story about the murder-suicide of the Griffith family in Mapleton, Utah, late last year. This exclusive story raised a lot of questions about what you should reveal as a journalist and what is best kept private. I located the biological father of the alleged murderer, Timothy Griffith, and his ex-wife. The father shared the story of his son and his quest for answers. His son Timothy is accused of shooting and killing his wife Jessica, 16-year-old Samantha, his wife's daughter, and 5 year-old Alexandre, the son he had with Jessica. Timothy is also accused of shooting the family dog before committing suicide.
The Mapleton police department concluded that Jessica planned this murder-suicide with her husband. She thought she was dying from an imaginary cancer and the family's financial situation was dire. The police report was detailed and devastating for both parents, who had fled their financial problems in Switzerland according to people I interviewed for the story. Jessica made several claims to her husband, mother and brother about her childhood, that might help us explain why she was in such distress in the days leading up to the murder-suicide. For those who can read French, here is the story that ran last Sunday in Le Matin Dimanche, a major Sunday paper in Switzerland.
You make documentary films for nights like these. On April 19 2018, LA PRENDA screened in the magnificent auditorium of the Mexican embassy in Guatemala City. This special screening took place in the context of the FIFDH Human Rights Festival on Tour to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. After an incredible festival run that started in 2015 at Hot Docs and at the Guadalajara Film Festival, LA PRENDA came home. We missed Astrid, one of the protagonists who lives in Los Angeles, Kelly's family and Micaela's family. But Karin and Rodolfo, 2 of the main protagonists of the film, spoke for them.
They shared the stage with Supreme Court judge Maria Eugenia Morales Aceña during one of the best Q&A the film ever had. LA PRENDA sparked discussions at the highest level of Guatemalan justice system. The protagonists' quest for justice impressed Justice Morales Aceña. "The film teaches me about the life of the children is a "prenda" (a jewel)", she said after watching LA PRENDA. "It is so precious that we have to defend it. The most important thing is to try to prevent these cases".
In Kelly Diaz Reyes' case, justice hasn't been achieved yet. The teenager was kidnapped and killed 7 years ago but her family is still fighting with the lawyer Rodolfo Diaz and the Sobrevivientes Foundation to make sure the convicted murderers are not released prematurely. A visit to the "Casa de la Memoria" (House of remembrance) in Guatemala City is a powerful reminder that these cases keep happening and that people keep disappearing.
Nights like these inspire you to keep going and to keep hustling to make films that matter. Because ultimately, you get to meet courageous people like Karin, Astrid, Rodolfo, Norma Cruz, Fernando Carac Saquic, Hortensia Reyes, Don Chepe, who trust you with their story. LA PRENDA was our attempt to make it shine and to make sure it is not lost on anybody who watches the film. That is why it was such an honor to receive last night the Icaro best documentary award the film had won in 2015 when it first screened in Guatemala. It is hard to measure the real impact of a film but this award means that the voices of Karin, Astrid, Kelly, Fernando and all the other protagonists of LA PRENDA have been heard in their own country.
Here is my latest editorial for the Tribune de Genève on the March for our Lives in Washington D.C. It went with this story. In Washington, I was fortunate to meet with Jason Kaplan, the father of twin girls who survived the Parkland shooting. Molly and her sister Rebecca were hiding in a closet during the shooting. They emailed their dad to tell him how scared they were. Jason came from Parkland, FL, to Washington D.C. last Saturday to say that he wanted change.
It was months in the making but here it is! We rae happy to share the new trailer of Stray Bullet, Jean-Cosme Delaloye's new feature documentary about the killing of 12-year-old Genesis Rincon in 2014 in the streets of Paterson, NJ. The film will be realeased in the U.S. soon!
Thanks to our friends at Wheelhouse Creative for their work on this trailer.
My film LA PRENDA (THE PAWN) about the kidnapping and rape of young women in Guatemala is screening today at the Tolerance Film Festival in Slovenia almost 3 years after its World Premiere at Hot Docs. The next screening is scheduled on April 12 at the Swiss embassy in Guatemala City in the context of the FIFDH human rights festival world tour.
Here is my latest story for the Tribune de Genève and 24 Heures on the Russia investigation. It came out today in both newspapers [in French]. It tells the story behind the firing of former FBI Deputy Director, Andrew McCabe.
In the past couple of days, we were shooting 2 scenes for our new feature documentary. And the contrast could not have been bigger. On Wednesday night, we spent time with Scott, a Johnny Cash fan with a disability. Scott is a tender and loving soul. He was celebrating St Patrick's Day with about 200 people living with disabilities.
Today, we interviewed Leslie, a bodybuilding champ from Colombia who attended Scott's party. The contrast between those 2 scenes is the essence of our new film. Get ready for unconventional storylines, complex characters and an intriguing plot. Days like these make the struggles inevitably linked with filmmaking, really worth it.
For the past several weeks, I have spent a lot of time shooting in a trial Paterson courtroom and then waiting outside that same courtroom for the verdict. While waiting for it, I was able to capture the life on the bench next to the courtroom's door. I saw people waiting to go in for their court appearance, relatives and a lawyer waiting for a verdict, children waiting for their mom while she was in court. Here are a few snapshots taken in February.
Irma is gone. I am sitting in a cool airport lounge after 4 days without power and 3 without running water. Every time a hurricane hits, you realize how fragile US cities really are. The neighborhood where I was staying was flooded as it was next to the Intercoastal Waterway. We lost power 24 hours before Irma even hit Miami and Internet went out quickly after the win gusts starting punching the city hard. Staying outside was almost impossible. And inside, you could feel the building shaking. As I was outside, I met Andre, a homeless man who was trying to find shelter. Hi face was tatted and you could see in his tired eyes that he had a long and complicated story. When I asked him why he hadn't gone to a shelter, he responded: "The police is not my family". I am wondering whether his family even knew where he was or whether this man had any ties outside his homeless word which seemed to comprise only a few blocks of Biscayne Boulevard. I saw him after the storm walking up and down Biscayne Boulevard. As people were looking for gas, cold water or hot food in powerless Miami, Andre was looking for a cigarette. He had made it past the storm. No it was all about facing the prospect of making it past another day on the streets of Miami.
JCDe Productions is proud to launch its new website. On this blog, we will document what it takes to make an independent documentary film and provide behind the scenes insight into our stories. Don't hesitate to get in touch!