This superb true crime doco by Werner Herzog examines the cases of two of the ‘Texas Seven’ who pulled off a spectacular break-out from a Texas maximum security prison in 2000 – and, once thwarted, went from life to death row.
Screened as part of NZIFF 2012
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.
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. Rivas was serving fifteen times a life sentence. Joseph Garcia had been condemned to a stretch of fifty years.
“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
Screening with Death Row: Portrait of Hank Skinner.