PDX Film Daily for April 7: Two inspiring documentaries

Two nonfiction films tell stories of triumphs over adversity, in the American criminal justice system and in conflict-wracked Africa

A pair of inspiring documentaries share the stage of #PDXFilmDaily for Thursday, April 7, one with regional roots and one from halfway around the world.

The Northwest Film Center presents Idaho filmmaker Gregory Bayne’s “Bloodsworth: An Innocent Man” as part of their Northwest Tracking series. It tells the story of Kirk Bloodsworth, who was convicted of the 1985 murder and sexual assault of a 9-year-old girl in Maryland and sentenced to death. As the title indicates, he didn’t do it, and in 1993 he was released from prison after DNA evidence confirmed his innocence. He was the first death row inmate ever to be ultimately freed based on DNA (although his sentence had been commuted to life in prison, so he wasn’t technically freed from death row).

Kirk Bloodsworth at the time of his arraignment in 1985.

Kirk Bloodsworth at the time of his arraignment in 1985.

Bayne has crafted a worthy entry in the burgeoning true-crime documentary genre, even if his film doesn’t offer the tantalizing lack of closure that made the podcast “Serial” and the Netflix series “Making a Murderer” such sensations. Bloodsworth, who now works as an anti-death-penalty advocate, is an appealing and genuine protagonist, and the movie moves skillfully back and forth on a literal timeline between the present day and the events that cost him nine years of his life. It serves as further proof that the criminal justice system is not and can never be a perfect instrument, which makes the existence of state-sanctioned killing a continuing stain on our nation’s conscience. “Bloodsworth: An Innocent Man” screens at 7 pm tonight at the Northwest Film Center.

The band Songhoy Blues on a street in Bamako, Mali.

The band Songhoy Blues on a street in Bamako, Mali.

Kirk Bloodsworth got a raw deal, and so did the Malian musicians profiled in “They Will Have to Kill Us First.” In 2012, Islamic fundamentalists took over much of the northern part of the African nation, including the ancient city of Timbuktu. As they have elsewhere (and as depicted in Abderrahmane Sissako’s marvelous film “Timbuktu”), the jihadists forbade music, causing many musicians to flee to southern Mali or to the neighboring nation of Burkina Faso. Director Johanna Schwartz traveled there to chronicle their stories, including the staging of the first concert in Timbuktu following the radicals’ takeover. The film does a great job of explaining the political background to the conflict, profiling the courageous artists who refuse to be silenced, and providing a killer soundtrack. “They Will Have to Kill Us First” screens at 7:30 pm tonight at the Hollywood Theatre, and begins a week-long run tomorrow, April 8, at the Liberty Theater in Camas, Washington.

2 Responses.

  1. One of the bands featured in “They Will Have to Kill Us First,” Songhoy Blues, performed in Portland on Monday.

  2. Marc Mohan says:

    Yes! I discovered this fact after I had watched the documentary, also on Monday night. Almost eerie.

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