When a federal judge issued an order last week to suspend screenings of documentary that investigates incompetence in the Mexican judicial system, it looked like the film might be falling victim to the very system it criticizes. The film, “Presumed Guilty” (“Presunto Culpable” in Spanish), exposes flaws in the Mexican judicial system as it charts two Mexican attorneys’ efforts to exonerate street vendor Jose Antonio Zúñiga, who was convicted of murder in 2005 and was serving a 20-year sentence.
Last week, federal Judge Blanca Lobo Domínguez issued an order to suspend the government-granted authorization to screen the film after Víctor Manuel Reyes Bravo, a man who testified against the film’s protagonist, filed a complaint claiming that he had never signed an appearance release form, international news reports said.
But as of Wednesday, the award-winning film was back on the marquee. A federal tribunal agreed to reverse the order Tuesday, stating in a press release that the film’s removal goes against the public interest “given that society’s interest in protecting the right to information, contained in Article 6 of the Federal Constitution, ” the Mexican news daily Milenio reported.
The documentary’s director, lawyer, and filmmaker, Roberto Hernández (who started a production company called Lawyers with Cameras), said he had obtained consent to film in the court where Zúñiga was being tried. He and executive producer Ana Laura Magaloni said the suspensions were a freedom of expression violation. The decision to pull the film provoked public outcry across the country.
No doubt the press generated by the order to halt screenings of “Presumed Guilty” has drawn even larger crowds to what was already Mexico’s highest grossing documentary film. As of March 3, some 557,000 people had seen the film in Mexico nationwide. The weekend following the court decision to pull the film from theaters, an estimated 200,000 moviegoers saw the documentary in Mexico City alone. And that’s not to mention the pirated copies that the local press says have exploded onto the market.
Mexican citizens are clearly hungry for the critical perspective offered in “Presumed Guilty.” The decision to keep the film in theaters is a positive step on the part of the Mexican judicial system, which, more often than not, CPJ research shows, fails to defend freedom of expression and the press.