Witch Hunt (2008)
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Witch Hunt is an important documentary and shows that innocent people can still be convicted of crimes. It's a deeply disturbing, horrifying, and sad documentary about some different people in Bakersfield, CA who were wrongly accused of child molestation. Many of the charges were that they sexually assaulted their own kids. Sean Penn narrates Witch Hunt and there's something about his voice that is so effective at evoking a lot of emotion out of these innocent people's stories. The good news is that these people have been freed, but the bad news is that they last years and years of their life, and those responsible for putting them their have just gone on living their same normal lives. They withheld information and coached the kids on what to say in court. Watching it will make you sick, especially when you listen to the piece of shit DA who's been re-elected 6 or 7 times. It's sad that stuff like this can occur. We sit in the modern world and say that the Salem Witch Trials were stupid and ridiculous, but in reality it's all still happening.
"Witch Hunt" is a heartbreaking documentary about the wrongful prosecution of people accused of child molestation in Bakersfield, California by an ambitious district attorney in the 1980's. Even after new evidence had been found to refute the original charges, it is not the end of their ordeals as damage coninutes to be seen decades later.
However, there is no mention of the eerily similar McMartin Preschool case which would have lent more context to the documentary. This is worth mentioning for a couple of other reasons. First, when I watched an HBO movie called "Indictment: The McMartin Trial" starring James Woods, I believed going in that these charges were true, and watching this dramatization, I was blown away by the absurdity of it all. This comes from a presumption of guilt that exists in this country, no matter how idealistic we think we may be, especially when it concerns the most serious charges. Also, were the two cases connected or was there something in the drinking water in California at the time? So, the Bakersfield cases were not as isolated as stated in "Witch Hunt." In the end, a lot of the hysteria around incidents like these can be explained by what Bill Hicks termed Child Worship Syndrome which only shows how some people can get creepily emotional over children.
If you think Salem Witch Trial and/or House UnAmerican Activities groupthink mentality can't still happen, watch this film and you'll know better. An expose of incredulous psychologies and self-interests surrounding a group of 1980s Bakersfield families who were railroaded, without a drop of corroborating physical evidence, into convictions of molesting their own children, resulting in sentences ranging from 40 to nearly 1,000 years.
During a simple child custody case, an overzealous (and apparently dim-witted) Child Services worker reads something into nothing, an ambitious DA mounts up, and volumes of false child testimony are coerced by Protective Services workers.
Soon enough, there's media feeding frenzies, dozens of kids in protective custody without due process, withheld physical exams evidencing lack of abuse, massive surveillance of everyday folk, public opinion demanding justice, and judges ready to play hang-em-high to the camera.
The hysteria eventually morphs into investigations and charges regarding Satanic murders/torture, in one case incredibly involving a child known at the time to be alive, well and in protective custody. It takes placard protesting, the FBI, the Cali Attorney General, an Innocents legal project and a group of Santa Clara law students to break the fever and obtain reversals after innocents have spent 10-20 years in jail, their lives & families ruined.
Now as adults, the children recant their testimony and explain their coercion - except one, who testifies he recalls no facts/details whatsoever, other than his certainty that he was molested.
A shocking revelation of human psychologies, as significant as the Milgram/Yale Obedience to Authority or Zimbardo/Stanford Prison Experiments.
Kudos to MSNBC for having the courage to debut this film (on 4/12/09) in coordination with the DVD release.
RECOMMENDATION: Well spent viewing time.
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