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No Tomorrow

February 16, 2013

Cinequest 2010

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NO TOMORROW is a thought provoking documentary that covers a lot of ground and argues a lot of different ideas.  Its only weakness is that it perhaps presents a few too many ideas and does not have the correct case to prove their arguments.

AGING OUT is a documentary brought by the same filmmakers to Cinequest in 2004.  It was about three teenagers who are aging out of the foster care system and the trials and tribulations they were then facing.  The film focused on the resilience of each teen and chose to look positively on their future prospects.

But soon after that film was completed one of the teens, Risa Bejarano, was brutally murdered.  The killer was caught, prosecuted and found guilty.  This is where NO TOMORROW comes in.  For the penalty phase of the trial the prosecution wanted to (and did) show the jury AGING OUT as a way of humanizing Risa and pushing the jury toward a death penalty decision.  The filmmakers were not happy about having their film used to give death to an 18 year old when their original purpose was to bring something positive into the world.  And so the documentary brings its arguments.

The problem I have with the film is that it brings so many arguments to the table.  The value of the death penalty itself is a main topic, but we are also presented with the idea of whether Juan Chavez (the killer) would have received the death penalty if a) AGING OUT had not been shown to the jury or b) Juan Chavez had had his own life documentary to show the jury.

images (1)There is a weakness in this particular argument because the crimes he committed were so senseless and violent, and Chavez himself so proud and unrepentant of his crimes, that I don’t think it mattered who he killed or what his own circumstances were.  I have issues with the death penalty myself, but in this particular case it is hard to summon up any sympathy for Chavez whatsoever, so the arguments about documentaries and cost of imprisonment have no real punch.  Chavez is not a sympathetic character in any way, no matter how many childhood photos the filmmakers show us.

There is also the fact that Risa and Juan grew up in much the same circumstances.  Both were abused as children and abandoned by their parents.  Both had difficult teenage years and experimented with drugs.  And both did have people in their lives who loved them.  There were choices made by each, and though Risa often made wrong decisions herself, she was trying to follow the correct path.  Chavez went a completely different route, and he did it by choice.

notomorrow02The filmmakers do give excellent arguments against the death penalty in general:  As far as an eye for an eye goes, we do not sentence rapists to be raped.  For every 8 people sentenced to death, one is later found innocent.  60% of Europe believes the death penalty is fine in theory, but because of the chance of error most do not want it enforced – and it is not.   There have only been 11 executions in California in the last 30 years, the rest are sitting in prison waiting for their appeals paid by tax payers.  The cost of putting a prisoner to death from trial through appeals to actual execution is 2-3 million dollars per inmate vs. $750,000 to house an inmate for life.  And there are so many inmates on death row in California that we could execute one per month and take the next 40 years to get through them all.

I think they make a great argument against the death penalty.  I am not sure they prove anything else in this film as Juan Chavez is a poor choice for anti-death-penalty poster boy and there are just too many issues being argued in this film.

It is however an excellent documentary and you should watch it.  The filmmakers were unfortunately snowed in on the East Coast and could not attend the festival for a Q&A.  As I said, it is a thought provoking documentary and gives the viewer an incredible amount to think about on their own, even if the film itself is not able to sway thoughts about this particular case.

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