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MEXICO CITY — Presunto Culpable, a gripping film that puts Mexico’s archaic judicial system on trial, has become the nation’s highest-grossing documentary ever.
After just two weeks in theaters, Presunto Culpable (Presumed Guilty) has earned $1.5 million, surpassing Luis Mandoki‘s Fraude, a documentary about an alleged fraud committed in Mexico’s 2006 presidential election.
Presunto Culpable outperformed Oscar winner The King’s Speech for the second straight week and is on track to eclipse Michael Moore‘s Fahrenheit 9/11, which holds the record as the most successful documentary ever screened here.
Exposing a legal system steeped in incompetence and corruption, the film focuses on the retrial of street vendor Jose Antonio Zuniga, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison for a murder he did not commit.
Mexican lawyers Roberto Hernandez and Layda Negrete, cinematographer John Grillo and documentary filmmaker Geoffrey Smith came to Zuniga’s rescue by documenting the retrial. Their recordings ultimately led to his release when it became clear to an appeals court judge that the prosecution had insufficient evidence.
The film has been a big hit on the festival circuit, but more importantly it’s striking a chord with Mexican audiences. Beyond the message that the Mexican judicial system sorely needs reform, the filmmakers hope that defendants will take it upon themselves to film their trials.
Mexican exhibitor/distributor Cinepolis agreed to release Presunto Culpable on 50 prints, but the film’s producers had a larger release in mind so that the film’s message could reach more people. So they launched an unprecedented Internet campaign to raise funds for additional copies. Not only did it work (they managed to go out with 130 prints), but the documentary also scored the highest theater average in Mexico this week — higher than three Oscar contenders.
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