Death Row Portraits: Joseph Garcia, George Rivas & Hank Skinner

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“When I talk to you, it does not necessarily mean that I have to like you. But I respect you and you are a human being, and I think human beings should not be executed.” — Werner Herzog

Director: Werner Herzog
Year: 2012
Country: USA
Running time: 104 mins
Genres: Justice

Death Row – Portrait of Joseph Garcia and George Rivas
With: Joseph Garcia, George Rivas, Norvell Graham, Joey Contreras
Festivals: Berlin 2012
52 minutes

Death Row – Portrait of Hank Skinner
With: Hank Skinner, David Bowser
Festivals: Berlin 2012
52 minutes

Conceived alongside the feature Into the Abyss, the Death Row series consists of four riveting hour-long documentaries, each an exemplary, in-depth true crime report in itself. Each is shaped around an interview with a convicted killer (or two) awaiting his or her appointment with a lethal injection. Herzog’s line of enquiry is forthright: how do people, and the state, go about killing other people? What were they thinking then? What are they thinking now? What is even true about the stories they tell? Others connected with the cases – victims, police, lawyers, relatives – are drawn into Herzog’s enquiry.

This session features interviews with Joseph Garcia, George Rivas and Hank Skinner. In December 2000 the ‘Texas Seven’ succeeded in pulling off a spectacular break-out from the John B. Connelly Unit, a Texan maximum security prison. George Rivas was serving fifteen times a life sentence. Joseph Garcia had been condemned to a stretch of fifty years. To this day, Hank Skinner has protested that he is innocent of the murder of his girlfriend and her two grown-up sons claiming that at the time of the murder he was lying on the couch, drugged up to the eyeballs. Just thirty-five minutes before he is due to die he receives a stay of execution on account of new evidence.

“Werner Herzog has become the indispensable Virgil of 21st-century film space, the best and most indefatigable guide through wonders and horrors that should astound us and rarely otherwise do… In his latest, Death Row, he succeeds in making the TV-doc dynamic feel fresh, meaningful, and appalling… The simple approach is… cinema as people telling stories, revealing far more than they mean to. (Crime photos are useful, too.) But Herzog’s inquisitiveness is its own brand, now as always, and though America has been just one detour among many for him, it’s a terrain that comes off more apocalyptically bleak in his gimlet eyes here than in any film since the first Paradise Lost doc.” — Michael Atkinson, Village Voice