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AMERICAN JUSTICE ON TRIAL: PEOPLE V. NEWTON

AMERICAN JUSTICE ON TRIAL: PEOPLE V. NEWTON

AMERICAN JUSTICE ON TRIAL: PEOPLE V. NEWTON

Genre: Documentary
Running Time: 39'57
Year of production: 2022

SYNOPSIS

AMERICAN JUSTICE ON TRIAL tells the forgotten story of the death penalty case that put racism on trial in a U.S. courtroom in the fall of 1968. Huey P. Newton, Black Panther Party co-founder, was accused of killing a white policeman and wounding another after a predawn car stop in Oakland. Newton himself suffered a near-fatal wound. As the trial neared its end, J. Edgar Hoover branded the Black Panthers the greatest internal threat to American security. Earlier that year, the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy rocked a nation already bitterly divided over the Vietnam War. As the jury deliberated Newton's fate, America was a tinderbox waiting to explode.

At his trial, Newton and his maverick defense team led by Charles Garry and his then rare female co-counsel Fay Stender, defended the Panthers as a response to 400 years of racism and accused the policemen of racial profiling, insisting Newton had only acted in selfdefense. Their unprecedented challenges to structural racism in the jury selection process were revolutionary and risky. If the Newton jury came back with the widely expected first degree murder verdict against the charismatic black militant, Newton would have faced the death penalty and national riots were anticipated. But Newton's defense team redefined a "jury of one's peers," and a groundbreaking diverse jury headed by pioneering Black foreman David Harper delivered a shocking verdict that still reverberates today.

HONORS

Winner, Best Documentary, Athens International Monthly Film Festival
Winner, Outstanding Achievement, Cult Critic Movies Awards
Winner, Best Short Documentary, Yale in Hollywood Fest
Winner, Best Short Documentary, Bright International Film Festival 
Winner, Jury Award, Indigo Moon Film Festival
Winner, Best Short Documentary, Universal Movie Awards 
Nominee, Best Mid-length Documentary, San Francisco International Film Festival
Nominee, Best Short Documentary, Swedish International Film Festival

FESTIVALS

San Francisco International Film Festival (premiere)
Maine International Film Festival
Martha's Vineyard African American Film Festival
African American Film Marketplace and Film Festival
United Nations Association Film Festival
Woodstock Film Festival
Santa Clarita International Film Festival
New Haven Documentary Film Festival
Cultures & Communities Festival
Indigo Moon Film Festival
Benin City Film Festival  (Nigeria)
Djarfogo International Film Festival (Cabo Verde)
Agropoli International Film Festival (Italy)
Symbiotic Film Festival (Ukraine)
Iconic Images Film Festival (Lithuania)
Yale in Hollywood Fest
Frozen River Film Festival 
Baliwood Bali–World Independent Short Film Awards (Indonesia)
Sebastopol Documentary Film Festival
Toronto Black Film Festival
Dunedin International Film Festival
Oxford Film Festival
American Documentary and Animation Film Festival
Pan African Film Festival

TOP CREDITS

Directed by
ANDREW ABRAHAMS
& HERB FERRETTE

Producers
LISE PEARLMAN &
ANDREW ABRAHAMS 

Co-Producers
ABBY GINZBERG
ROBERT RICHTER

Executive Producers
PETER BENVENUTTI
JONATHAN LOGAN

Co-Executive Producer
SANDRA EVERS-MANLY

Cinematography & Editing
ANDREW ABRAHAMS

Music
JOHN LISSAUER

Sketch Art
CHRISTINE CORNELL

DIRECTORS' STATEMENT

George Floyd was a tipping point, but racial profiling and excessive force against black people by police has been a reality in the U.S. for decades. It was the fulcrum of the 1968 Huey Newton trial which AMERICAN JUSTICE ON TRIAL depicts, and which the Black Panthers—co-founded by Newton—rallied against. The great lesson from People v. Newton was the importance of diversity among all players in the criminal justice system, including police, attorneys, juries and judges. Diversity brings out better results. The Huey Newton trial was revolutionary in shepherding this notion in the legal system, when a radically diverse jury, a black jury foreman, and the "on the record" recognition of racism in the legal system itself were seen as pivotal in creating a fairer trial and fairer outcome. In this light, our decision to have a white and black director matched the media and message of the film: diversity brings out better results. The points of view of both directors, sometimes clashing, always revelatory, made a better, more authentic and representative film. In such an open, diverse milieu, sharing a spectrum of viewpoints and lived experience, it is easier to come to compromise or consensus, rather than get entrenched in one's own biases or grievances. While—as one of the film's protagonists says in acknowledging racial progress since the 1960s—"the battle goes on," our film nonetheless shows real world solutions, not just problems.

In crafting the film, such questions of representation and authenticity routinely came up as creative challenges. For example, we wanted to bring the viewers into the trial itself. Yet we had only the transcript of the trial, but no visuals at all. So we cast voices that approximated the real participants' voices, using those historical figures' own words. We then hired a professional courtroom sketch artist to help bring the viewer into the courtroom and recreate the experience of "being there." We felt we had a higher bar since authentic representation was the linchpin of the trial itself—and therefore, so too, of the film. We had to make sure that the representation of Huey Newton in the courtroom was as true to life as possible. This required a number of iterations of the drawings and fine tuning so that both Huey Newton and the members of this uniquely diverse jury looked authentic. We showed the sketches to Huey's brother Melvin and to jury foreman David Harper to get their feedback and approval—something many directors might even frown upon. In addition, the film contains interviews with a number of former members of the Black Panther, many of which attended the premiere at the SFFILM Festival, and were complimentary in their feedback about the film's representation of the trial and the time.

DIRECTORS' BIOS

Andrew Abrahams
Founder and president of Open Eye Pictures, Andrew is a two-time Oscar-shortlisted and Emmy-nominated producer/director of creative non-fiction films. He is also a cinematographer and editor. Andrew studied at Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism and USC's School of Cinema, ultimately receiving a master's degree in Visual Anthropology. Productions include UNDER OUR SKIN (Tribeca Film Festival, Netflix), ALFREDO'S FIRE (Santa Barbara International Film Festival), THE GROVE (ITVS/PBS), and BUBBEH LEE & ME (HBO). A recipient of a Pew Charitable Trust Fellowship in Dance/Media, he is the two-time Grand Prize recipient at the Dance on Camera Film Festival. Andrew is a former board director of the Jewish Film Institute and past member of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. He has been recognized by the Northern California Marin Arts Council as Outstanding Artist, and by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences with honors for Outstanding Documentary Achievement.

Herb Ferrette
Herb is an award-winning documentary filmmaker and editor with 30 years of experience in the communications industry. He's a seven-time regional Emmy winner and 12-time nominee. He has received National Emmy nominations in the categories of Individual Achievement in a Craft. Herb's editing work has been recognized internationally, including the feature documentary STABLE LIFE (America ReFramed/PBS), THE FIGHT ON THE FIELDS (Sundance Film Festival) and RACE IS THE PLACE (Independent Lens/PBS). Herb recently edited videos on the Black Panthers for the Oakland Museum. AMERICAN JUSTICE ON TRIAL is his directorial debut.