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Documenting Detectives: Exonerees Fight To Free Others

David Alvarado
"Freedom Fighters"

Filmmaker Jamie Meltzer thought he’d just go check out a Dallas meeting for prison exonerees last February. He’d heard a group of freed inmates had started a detective agency, which sounded like pretty good film fodder. Meltzer showed up, met the guys and started shooting that day.

“I came down to evaluate the idea and I was just hooked from the get-go,” says Meltzer, who now is about a year into filming “Freedom Fighters.” Meltzer's team includes Michael May, who has a story on the detective agency on All Things Consideredtoday.

Meltzer, who directs this film, has produced several documentary features for PBS and festivals worldwide. His body of work includes Off the Charts: The Song-Poem Story and most recently The Informant, a 2012 film about a revolutionary activist turned FBI informant. Meltzer teaches in the documentary film and video M.F.A. program at Stanford University.

He’s working with May, former Texas Observer managing editor; producer Kate McLean and producer/cinematographer David Alvarado, who was born and raised in Dallas and used to regularly freelance for KERA.

The film won’t come out for a while; Meltzer and his colleagues want to shadow the detective agency for at least another year. But even though Freedom Fighters is far from finished, Melzter says it’s already clear what kind of impact this film is going to have.

“These guys know the system; the system is what did them wrong,” Meltzer said. “They know how to fix it from the grassroots level.”

Christopher Scott, Billy Smith, Johnnie Lindsey and Steven Phillips spent between 13 and 27 years behind bars before being exonerated.

Meltzer's film effort is in the middle of fundraising. The Freedom Fighters Kickstarter just launched which lets the public donate through an online portal and claim prizes based on contributions. For example, a $35 donation will get you a DVD or Blu-ray of the finished film, but a pledge of $200 will get you that plus two tickets to the Dallas premiere. The goal of this effort is $30,000 by May 10.

Even though subjects of the film have a positive outlook and are doing their best to extend a hand to others in need, they still struggle with what a lot of exonerees do; life on the outside, lost time and stolen memories. Christopher Scott is busy trying to catch up on being a dad.

“He missed 13 years of his children’s life. You can’t buy that back, you can’t compensate that,” Meltzer said.

To learn more about the men involved with the detective agency check out Christopher Scott’s non-profit House of Renewed Hope.

Courtney Collins has been working as a broadcast journalist since graduating from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 2004. Before coming to KERA in 2011, Courtney worked as a reporter for NPR member station WAMU in Washington D.C. While there she covered daily news and reported for the station’s weekly news magazine, Metro Connection.