Our previous film about Risa Bejarano’s last year of life unexpectedly became the centerpiece of a chilling death penalty trial.
Raised to date: $207,500.00
Estimate to complete: $787,768.00
Total Estimated Budget: $995,268.00
The budget numbers above are accurate as of 05/27/2009
Project End Use
Roger Weisberg joined public television station Thirteen/WNET New York in 1976. As a staff producer, he produced dozens of programs on a broad range of social, political, and health policy issues. In 1982 Weisberg formed an independent production company, Public Policy Productions, to extend the reach and impact of his documentaries. Since founding the company, Weisberg has produced and directed 30 documentaries on subjects ranging from health care, aging, and the environment to defense policy, child welfare, and persistent poverty. The documentaries aired in primetime on PBS in the U.S., and many were broadcast in television markets around the world. Weisberg’s documentaries have won over 100 awards including Peabody, Emmy, and duPont-Columbia awards. Weisberg received an Academy Award nomination in 2001 for SOUND AND FURY and in 2003 for WHY CAN’T WE BE A FAMILY AGAIN?
An Academy Award, duPont-Columbia, and Sundance Award-winning filmmaker, Ms. Roth has been writing, producing and directing pivotal social issue documentaries for more than a decade. Her work has been theatrically released, broadcast nationally on PBS, HBO, Discovery Channel, A&E and the Sundance Channel, and has been featured on Oprah, NPR and was hosted by Dee Dee Myers as part of the official Youth Inaugural events in DC. Some of her award-winning films include: TAKEN IN: THE LIVES OF AMERICA’S FOSTER CHILDREN; CLOSE TO HOME; AGING OUT; SCHOOLS OF THE 21st CENTURY; THE THIRD MONDAY IN OCTOBER; 9/11’S TOXIC DUST and FREEHELD. She recently completed a project for a new Bill and Melinda Gates national media campaign about education, and is working with TED Award Recipient, Dave Eggers on the feature documentary, THE TEACHER SALARY PROJECT. Ms. Roth holds a master's degree in social work from Columbia University
Tom Haneke is one of the most respected documentary editors working today. He has edited films directed by Alexandra Pelosi, Nanette Burstein, David Grubin, Barbara Kopple, and Peter Davis. His very first feature documentary, FROM MAO TO MOZART, won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 1980. Two other films he edited also won the Academy Award: HE MAKES ME FEEL LIKE DANCING in 1983 and AMERICAN DREAM in 1990. He has received three Emmys for “outstanding editing” for his work on HE MAKES ME FEEL LIKE DANCING, the CBS special JACK, and MOTHER TERESA. His films GHOSTS OF ATTICA and LBJ each won the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia Award for Excellence in Journalism. Other PBS documentaries include ABRAHAM AND MARY TODD LINCOLN for THE AMERICAN EXPERIENCE and THE RISE AND FALL OF JIM CROW, which was awarded a Peabody. His most recent film was AMERICAN TEEN.
Outreach/Engagement Plan(s)Like our previous social issue documentaries, NO TOMORROW will be presented on PBS by Thirteen/WNET and will be supported by an ambitious community outreach campaign. The campaign will be designed to reach prosecutors, capital defense attorneys, state legislators, human rights groups, educators, families of crime victims, advocacy organizations, and criminal justice stakeholders. As with our previous six productions, we plan to collaborate with Outreach Extensions in the design and implementation of the campaign.
If NO TOMORROW is co-presented by P.O.V, then P.O.V.’s Community Engagement team will work with public television stations and stakeholder groups to coordinate screenings, policy forums, town hall debates and other events in dozens of additional communities across the country. P.O.V. also will produce a comprehensive Viewer Guide, lesson plans for grade 7-12 educators and a “Delve Deeper” multi-media resource list of related fiction and non-fiction books, Web sites, and videos that further explore issues in the film.
|The Fledgling Fund||$20,000.00||01/20/2010|
|Mertz Gilmore Foundation||$25,000.00||12/21/2009|
|Charles A. Frueauff Foundation||$25,000.00||12/17/2009|
|Alan and Arlene Alda||$10,000.00||12/08/2009|
|Lucius and Eva Eastman Fund||$5,000.00||11/19/2009|
|Foundation for a Just Community||$7,500.00||01/02/2009|
100 Beekman Street #18M
New York, NY, 10038
When a young woman featured in our recent documentary is brutally murdered, the film itself becomes central to whether the killer lives or dies. This chilling personal story offers a truly unique window into the complexities and controversy surrounding the death penalty.
Description/TreatmentIn 2004, PBS broadcast our documentary, AGING OUT, about the struggles of Risa Bejarano to build a new life for herself after leaving the foster care system at the age of 18. A few months after the completion of our film, Risa was brutally murdered, and our film about her last year of life suddenly and unexpectedly became the centerpiece of a homicide investigation and a trial that would determine whether the alleged killer would live or die.
In September 2007 Juan Jose Chavez went to trial in Los Angeles Superior Court in front of Judge Lance Ito, who became famous for presiding over the O.J. Simpson trial. Chavez was accused of three homicides – killing two young people in a gang motivated rampage and then killing Risa Bejarano, a potential witness, a week later in order to prevent her from talking to the police.
The district attorney decided to seek the death penalty and wanted to use our film to heighten sympathy for the murder victim during the penalty phase of the trial. The defense argued vigorously that the film would be too emotional and prejudicial to his client. He also argued that no one had created a documentary about the defendant, Juan Chavez, which could arouse comparable sympathy for him even though, like Risa Bejarano, Chavez was horribly abused as a child and grew up as a ward of the state. Ultimately, the judge allowed the film to be shown, and a few days later the jury returned a verdict of life without parole for the first two murders and the death penalty for the murder of Risa Bejarano.
Ironically, we created AGING OUT in order to illustrate how difficult it is for teenagers to overcome the scars of abuse and neglect. Now we were confronted with the prospect that our film helped convince a jury to give the death penalty to a young man who had suffered the same traumatic childhood experiences as Risa Bejarano in AGING OUT. Having failed to protect Chavez as a child, and having failed to protect the community from his murderous actions as a teenager, the state is now poised to execute him. By painting an intimate portrait of the tragic end of two young lives, NO TOMORROW provides a dramatic window into the complexity and controversy surrounding capital punishment.
We covered some of the trial’s most dramatic moments including Judge Ito’s chilling death warrant in which Chavez is remanded to San Quentin Prison’s death row to be put to death by lethal injection. We also interviewed every major participant in the trial - the district attorney, the chief homicide detective, several eyewitnesses to the murders, as well as Risa’s former foster mother and friends from high school and college. We spoke with the defense attorney, family and friends of the defendant, and the key defense witnesses during the penalty phase of the trial. We also interviewed eight of the twelve members of the jury in order to understand the weight of the decision they had to make, their reactions to the evidence that was presented in court and how they reached their verdict.
While our coverage of the trial and all of our interviews with the trial’s participants focused on whether Juan Chavez committed the murder and deserves to die, our documentary also addresses the broader question of whether the state deserves to kill him. Although some viewers initially might feel that executing the convicted killer in this case would be a legitimate human reaction to the heinous crimes he committed, NO TOMORROW will make viewers question whether the administration of the death penalty is too imperfect, costly, discriminatory, and arbitrary to be a legitimate public policy. To address these far-reaching questions, we interviewed some of the nation’s leading death penalty proponents and critics. They did not speak in merely abstract terms about the merits of the death penalty, but they applied their expertise to the specifics of the Chavez case and became fully integrated into the trial’s adversarial debate over the appropriate punishment. We withhold the outcome of the trial until the end of the film after viewers have heard all the arguments from both sides on this adversarial debate.
Although there have been other documentaries about the death penalty, the two unexpected developments that make NO TOMORROW unique are 1) that we shot fifty hours of footage documenting what turned out to be the last year of the victim’s life, and 2) that the film that emerged from that footage became a critical tool for the prosecution to humanize the victim and convince the jury to impose the death penalty. Ultimately, NO TOMMOROW will not only take viewers inside a suspenseful death penalty trial, it will challenge their beliefs about capital punishment.
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