In 2009, a low-budget documentary film called Presumed Guilty was released in movie theaters across Mexico. The film tells the story of Toño Zúñiga, a man who was wrongfully convicted of murder in Mexico City. Through documenting his life in prison and his legal struggles to regain his freedom, the film made a compelling case for criminal justice reform in Mexico and challenged dominant policy narratives.
The film’s impact was unexpectedly explosive. Its depiction of Mexico’s court system was so realistic and embarrassing that a federal judge issued a ban. In response to the censorship, the film was uploaded to YouTube and pirated DVD copies flooded the streets. Today, Presumed Guilty remains the most successful documentary in Mexican history. According to polls, one in every three Mexicans has seen the film.
Layda Negrete and Roberto Hernández, the filmmakers, will discuss their experience making Presumed Guilty and explain how the film helped catalyze national judicial reforms in Mexico.
Roberto Hernández (Director/Producer) was trained as a lawyer in Mexico and Canada and had no particular interest in cameras or film until he found himself collecting statistics in the basement of Mexico City's Superior Court, which houses the archived legal cases of one of the largest cities in the world. What he saw inspired him and his wife, Layda Negrete, to make "El Túnel," a short documentary that presented scandalous facts about Mexico's justice system and was broadcast on several television stations throughout Mexico. As a result of the support the film received, in 2008 Mexico's Congress passed the most significant amendment to its constitution's due process clause, requiring public trials and the presumption of innocence. But Hernández, currently a graduate student in public policy at the University of California, Berkeley, notes, "The implementation of this reform is hardly progressing at all, as the Mexican government today remains ostensibly focused on an offensive against drug cartels."