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"Presumed Guilty" Biggest Mexican Doc of All Time; Beats "Fahrenheit 9/11"

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by Anthony Kaufman
December 8, 2011 11:00 AM
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One of the biggest box office success stories of the year, south of the border, was the release of "Presumed Guilty," a scathing indictment of the Mexican justice system that debuted on POV in the U.S. last year. According to an annual industry report, the film -- directed by lawyer-turned-filmmaker Roberto Hernandez -- became the third highest-grossing Mexican film of the year (at $6.33 million), just below Warner Bros's animated kids film "Top Cat" and a comic crime film called "Saving Private Perez." What's more, it bested Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" to become the highest-grossing documentary ever in Mexico.

Earlier this year, the Los Angeles Times reported on the film, in a detailed article about Antonio Zuniga, a man convicted twice by the same judge, and sentenced to 20 years in prison, even though investigators were discredited and a witness recanted his testimony.

The film's "tight focus on a low-profile throw-away case offers a blistering indictment of the country's shrouded judicial apparatus," writes the Times. "Architects of Mexico's touted war on drug cartels would do well to watch and take careful notes — no crime crackdown seems likely to yield lasting success until the country cleans up a justice system that few Mexicans trust."
 
Despite winning prizes in film festivals abroad since 2009, the movie only began showing across Mexico in 2011. Icarus Films will distribute the DVD in the U.S. on December 20.
 
Together with "Miss Bala," Mexican director Gerardo Naranjo's blistering and subversive examination of the country's corroded soul through the story of an exploited beauty queen, which earned approximately $3 million locally, Mexico's citizens have taken in an astonishing amount of self-criticism lately at their cinemas.
 
To wit, the L.A. Times talked to a woman exiting a screening of "Presumed Guilty": "It gives us a reality, sadly, of the lack of seriousness of Mexican authorities," she said. "It's the truth. This is what we know happens."
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