Since premiering at the San Francisco Film Festival nearly a year ago, Jamie Meltzer’s documentary “Informant” has been collecting audience awards left and right, so it’s no wonder this week, Music Box Films finally picked up the film for release this summer. Yet there was a time after Meltzer completed his riveting profile of Brandon Darby, the controversial activist-turned-FBI-informant who spurned his peers in radical left to become a favorite of the Tea Party, that he thought there might not make another one.
“‘Informant’ was such a difficult, emotional experience for me to go through as a filmmaker,” Meltzer said. “It’s really exciting to work with all these people who are in this propaganda war, but basically at the end of it I was like I don’t think I’m ever going to make a film again. It’s too exhausting.”
Thankfully, that turned out not to be the case, as demonstrated by an effort on Kickstarter to back Meltzer’s new film “Freedom Fighters,” which is currently raising funds to help out with additional shooting and to aid with editing costs before a May 10th deadline. As compelling a subject as the two-faced Darby was, Meltzer may have found three men with an even more intriguing story to tell in Christopher Scott, Johnnie Lindsay and Billy Smith, who spent a combined 59 years in prison due to wrongful convictions and have spent the last four championing the Texas Exoneree Project where they have used their experience to help other innocent inmates to get exonerated.
“These exonerees have a special position to understand who these people are and how to crack their cases, even though they have no experience as detectives,” said Meltzer. “They have a special kind of perspective on this world, having gone through it themselves.”
Meltzer was first turned onto their story by Michael May, a journalist who he became friends with while doing research for “Informant” and ultimately appeared in the film. At the time, May was working on a series of articles about a support group that formed between former inmates that had proved their innocence in Dallas County, culminating in a May 2011 piece for the Texas Observer titled “Freedom Fighters” that ended on Scott galvanizing an effort to get private investigator licenses for he and some of his fellow exonerees.
With May onboard as a producer, “Freedom Fighters” the film is picking up where that article left off, following Scott, Lindsay and Smith as they learn the ins and outs of detective work. Shot in the suspenseful style of “Informant” where the crimes purportedly committed by the subjects of the film will be brought to life via reenactments that allow the audience to conduct their own investigation, Meltzer is capturing the trio as they figure out how to apply the hard-won experience they had of navigating the system to do the same for the falsely accused currently behind bars as well as discovering more about their own cases.
“We’re really hoping that they crack a case and free another wrongfully convicted person who’s now in prison,” Meltzer told me back in October when he was already six months into shooting. “It really looks like they’ll do it because they’re just amazing guys.”
Now, it appears they’re close, which is why the filmmakers are asking for additional resources since they’re taking on new cases this summer. Although time will tell if the nascent P.I.s are successful, the evidence is already overwhelming that the film about their incredible lives will be, so long as it gets a little extra backing from the crowd.