A Remarkable, Never-Before-Seen Film Class Tackles the Criminal Justice System

UC Santa Cruz film professor Sharon Daniel’s two-quarter undergraduate coursework assignments MOVIE 171S-02, are not your typical film school fare. This course, titled Reasonable doubts: make an exonerationseeks nothing more or less than the release of wrongfully convicted persons currently incarcerated in American prisons.

Now ongoing and in its 12th week, make an exemption pairs film and digital media majors from UCSC with law students from Georgetown University who are working together as investigative journalists, documentarians and social justice activists to advocate for the innocence of five people behind bars.

Students re-examine the original crimes and convictions and document the key issues, challenges, injustices and stories involved in each case, producing short documentary films, interactive documentaries and social media campaigns designed to provide humanizing portraits of life of incarcerated and complicated people. Legal Affairs.

According to Daniel, whose own artistic work has long focused on the criminal justice system, “the media plays a vital role in work like this. He reveals. It creates public archives. He persuades. So many resources go into overturning a conviction, and high notoriety is one of them.

Daniel co-teaches the course with Georgetown law professor Marc Howard and his childhood friend, assistant professor Marty Tankleff, who himself was wrongfully convicted and incarcerated for nearly 18 years before being exonerated. Howard and Tankleff developed Georgetown’s make an exempt course in 2018, and its students have already secured the release of three men and made significant progress on the legal prospects of several others.

Daniel approached Howard and Tankleff after developing a close bond with Timothy James Young who has been on death row at San Quentin State Prison since 2006 and became familiar with faculty and staff at the UCSC through groundbreaking innovation from the Institute of Arts and Sciences. Visualize the abolition initiative. As part of this ongoing series of exhibitions and programs focusing on the abolition of prisons, artist jackie summel has set up the participatory sculpture and public garden project, solitary gardenat UCSC’s Baskin Arts Studios in 2019, in collaboration with Young, who directs the garden and its plantings through letter exchanges with students and volunteers that continue to this day.

Along with plant lists and garden designs, Young shares personal reflections on his life in prison and before in his letters. His relationship with the staff and students of the Arts Division deepened, and a strong community of friends and supporters took root at UCSC, Daniel among them. Young became one of the main contributors to an interactive documentary, EXPOSEDwhat Daniel did about COVID-19 in prisons.

Daniel brought in Howard and Tankleff to take on Young’s case for the 2022 Exempt course, which they accepted after reviewing substantial evidence of official misconduct in the case. It had also long been his desire to teach a class like this, and the Georgetown team was excited to collaborate. The partners will make it annual.

“Working in the world like this is incredibly valuable for students, and the course had a dramatic impact on them,” says Daniel. “They all told me that they plan to continue working on these campaigns once they are complete.”

Film major Allison Dean, who is part of the panel assigned to Young’s case, wholeheartedly agrees. “I definitely stick with it once the course is over,” she says. “The first time I received a letter from Tim, saw his handwriting and read his questions for me, it was so moving. This man trusts me to do this really important job, so I will continue to make sure let his story be heard.

Fellow film major Sullivan Gaudreault agrees. “It was an opportunity to work on something that could change someone’s life. It’s so much more meaningful than doing something for a grade,” he says. “My short-term goal is to get Tim’s voice heard around the world to as many people as possible, but long-term I look forward to the day when Tim can come see his garden here at UCSC.”

For more information on the Free Timothy James Young campaign, visit website or follow @freetimyoung on your favorite social media platform.

The students will showcase their work at a public event hosted this spring by Georgetown’s Prisons and Justice Initiative and UCSC’s Institute of Arts and Sciences.

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