Witch Hunt (DVD Review)15 Mar, 2009 By: Billy Gil
Prebook 3/17/09; Street 4/14/09
Your Half Media
Narrated by Sean Penn.
Witch Hunt, about five parents charged and convicted of child molestation, only to be cleared years later, has the power to infuriate in its (admittedly one-sided) display of gross abuse of power on the part of prosecutors in these cases.
The film portrays local authorities in Bakersfield, Calif., in the 1980s as hell-bent on conviction by any means necessary. The lengths they went to get these convictions are awful — children were basically coached into testifying against local parents, including their own. Years later many of the children, now grown, recanted their confessions. Interviews with the grown children and tape of their alleged confessions drive the point home.
Witch Hunt successfully links real people to names you read about in stories. It’s easy to be somewhat dispassionate, even hateful toward people who have been convicted of crimes, wrongfully or not; it’s a lot harder to do so when you’ve heard and seen the stories from their eyes.
Narrated and produced by Sean Penn, Witch Hunt could have gone a bit further in exploring the aftermath of the acquittals — one boy still claims his father molested him, for example — but as is, Witch Hunt is highly effective at forcing its viewers to face how scary, shocking and wrong our justice system can sometimes be.