The University of Mississippi’s Center for Media and Documentary Projects, the School of Law and the Mississippi Innocence Project are pleased to announce the award of a $10,000 grant from The Fledgling Fund. Proceeds from the grant will develop curricula that complement Mississippi Innocence, an award-winning documentary about the wrongful convictions of two Noxubee County, Mississippi, men who spent more than thirty years in prison for crimes that they did not commit.
The two men were freed from prison in 2008 through the work of several lawyers, including student attorneys at the Mississippi Innocence Project. In particular, the curricula will harness the power of these two extraordinary innocence narratives so that viewers of the film will not only be exposed to these tragedies but refuse to countenance similar failures of justice in the future. The film was directed and produced by The University of Mississippi’s Center of Media and Documentary Projects and the Mississippi Innocence Project. The Fledgling Fund’s mission is to improve the lives of vulnerable individuals, families and communities by supporting innovative media projects that target entrenched social problems.
The film’s co-producer, Tucker Carrington, who also directs the Innocence Project, says that litigating cases of wrongful conviction are only part of what the Law School clinic does. “Without affirmative efforts to prevent their causes, these failures of justice will continue,” he says. “Among the problems is a culture that, not to put too fine a point on it, doesn’t care—or, maybe
more precisely, hasn’t been made to care—about these issues. In criminal litigation, our efforts are pretty much limited to assuring that those responsible for condemning innocent people like Levon Brooks and Kennedy Brewer meet some baseline of decency. That kind of litigation doesn’t change hearts and minds. That needs to be exposed in different ways. Which is one of the reasons we made the film and are working to create curricula around it that can be accessed and used along with the film and other
supporting material by high school and college students, as well as law students and viewers interested in these issues. Thanks to The Fledgling Fund, we’ll be able to enhance our materials to complement the film so that both can be used in high schools, colleges and law schools to teach the lessons of these cases. Nothing works like sunshine. The roaches hate it. Each time we show the film to a new audience we expose who and what was responsible. It creates a room full of outraged people. They won’t stand for it. They’ll be what it takes to bring lasting measurable change.”
Andy Harper, who directs the Media and Documentary Projects Center at the University of Mississippi, says that the award is a testament to a number of things. “Namely, Joe York’s talent,” Harper says. “He’s a filmmaker’s filmmaker; Ole Miss is lucky—probably unique among universities—to have someone of his abilities and growing reputation as a documentary filmmaker on staff. This is a Mississippi story. This tragedy occurred here, in our community. We own it. We need to be courageous enough to document and create conversation around it, and ultimately find solutions to it. We’re a service university; this is our service.”
Grants from The Fledgling Fund are incredibly competitive. This year’s applications numbered close to 375, of which 74 were invited to submit full applications. Of the 26 projects awarded grants, fewer than 10 are new grantees; Mississippi Innocence is one. PBS Frontline producer and director Ofra Bikel, a 2007 John Chancellor Excellence in Journalism winner, and admirer of Mississippi Innocence, says that the award is much deserved. Having spent the better part of her filmmaking career creating films that document this country’s criminal justice system—and winning an Emmy and numerous other awards in the process—Bikel has had significant experience delving into the kinds of problems and failures of accountability that this film captures. “It’s a moving and difficult film,” she says, “but it’s balanced and fair—the kinds of qualities that films like these must possess in order to be taken seriously, to effect change. The Fledging Fund chose wisely.”
Law Dean Richard Gershon is particularly proud of the film and the award. “I saw the film at a film festival earlier this year. I was moved. We’re so fortunate to have the Mississippi Innocence Project and Clinic here at our Law School and to be the beneficiaries of Renee and John Grisham’s—who along with several others gave the seed money to start the project—visionary generosity. The Law School has valued and nurtured the project since it started here. It’s a featured and permanent part of our curriculum. Students fortunate enough to be enrolled consider it one of their best law school experiences.”
For more inFormation about the curricula, the award and the Film, contact:
Tucker Carrington, Director, Mississippi Innocence Project
phone: (662) 915-5207
Andy Harper, Director, Media and Documentary Projects Center
For more information about Mississippi Innocence, the Mississippi Innocence Project and the University of Mississippi School of Law, or The Center for Media and Documentary Projects:
For a high resolution film poster:
(Right click to download).
The Fledgling Fund’s announcement is here: