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MEXICO CITY — A judge has ordered officials to temporarily pull screenings of a hit documentary about wrongdoings in the Mexican justice system, as one of the film’s subjects claims he did not consent to appear in the movie.
Presunto Culpable (Presumed Guilty) documents the retrial of street vendor Jose Antonio Zuniga, who was serving a 20-year sentence for a murder he did not commit. After just two weeks in theaters, the film broke the box office record for a Mexican documentary.
All was going well until late Wednesday when a Mexico City district court judge ordered the “provisional suspension” of Presumed Guilty in theaters after a main witness who testified against Zuniga filed a complaint saying he never signed an appearance release form.
Lawyer-turned-filmmaker Roberto Hernandez, whose production company Lawyers with Cameras shot the case to shed light on corruption in the Mexican justice system, said on a Televisa news program that the court order was an attempt to censor the film. He added that the production had obtained a signed release from the prison where Zuniga was being held and tried.
“We believe it’s not necessary to have the authorization to record people who make statements in a trial given that the Constitution says that the accused has the right to a public hearing,” Hernandez said.
Exhibitor/distributor Cinepolis issued a statement on Thursday saying it will continue to screen the picture until it gets official notice from the court ordering the suspension.
The government-run Radio, Television and Film agency, a classifications entity in charge of overseeing regulatory issues, issued a statement Thursday vowing to appeal the ruling.
Presunto Culpable Executive producer Ana Laura Magaloni suspects foul play. She alleges that the witness who filed the complaint with the court “doesn’t even have a lawyer” and adds that he is probably “being used by someone who has other interests.”
The controversial court order has drawn the ire of industry people, politicians and rights groups, yet curiously the film stands to benefit from all the publicity.
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