June 2013 Filmmaker of the Month: Yoav Potash
After hearing the story of Deborah Peagler, a victim of domestic violence incarcerated for an alleged murder, filmmaker Yoav Potash had to share the story. The result, Crime After Crime, takes a hard look at not only the flaws in our justice system but at the consequences of domestic violence and sex trafficking.
Join us June 23 at The Microsoft Store in Los Angeles to watch the documentary and ask Yoav your own questions about this eye-opening documentary.
GL: How did you become familiar with the case of Deborah Peagler? At what point did you decide this story needed to be told as a documentary?
YP: I first heard of the case from Joshua Safran, one of the two lawyers who represented Deborah Peagler, but it wasn’t until I met Deborah that I became hooked on the idea of making a documentary. She impressed me as someone who had lived through a very hellish experience, and yet maintained an uplifting presence, a very upbeat attitude, and an unshakable faith in God. I felt that contrast between her experiences and her attitude would make audiences sympathetic to her and interested in her story.
GL: What do you consider to be the biggest problem in our current justice system?
YP: Based on my experience, it seems that many prosecutors stake their careers on attaining the maximum number and severity of convictions, rather than looking at each case on its own merits and striving for what is truly fair and just. This incentive opens a pandora’s box of misconduct and helps slicken an already slippery slope of questionable practices. These practices include the use of paid informants, leveraging the death penalty as a bargaining chip in obtaining plea deals, withholding evidence favorable to the defense, and a general dismissiveness of the context that surrounds a defendant’s alleged conduct. In Deborah Peagler’s case, all of these factors contributed to a grave miscarriage of justice, and the surrounding context of domestic violence was ignored or intentionally silenced. With this film and the advocacy campaign that accompanies it (see www.freefromabuse.org), we are seeking to shed light on these important factors and help bring about justice for thousands of victims of abuse.
GL: Did you encounter any difficulties while researching and creating Crime After Crime?
YP: The biggest difficulties were about access. I had to jump through a lot of hoops to secure and maintain access to the maximum security prison where Deborah Peagler was incarcerated. We touch on this in the film to give viewers an idea of the literal and figurative barricades that surround stories of wrongful incarceration. Also, the District Attorney was reluctant to appear on camera, and in the end we basically had to hunt him down and surprise him with point blank questions.
GL: What do you think needs to change to guarantee true justice for those on trial in the future?
YP: I think prosecutors must truly be held accountable for misconduct. We can only hope to reduce or eliminate prosecutorial misconduct if there are real and severe consequences. So long as we allow prosecutors to hide behind a shield of immunity, there will remain many prosecutors who will cheat people of their freedom, and in some cases, of their very lives.
GL: What has been viewers’ response to your film?
YP: People have been simultaneously inspired and outraged, which sounds like a contradiction, but I think it makes sense once you see the film. Audiences are outraged at the failures of our justice system, but they are inspired by the courage of Deborah Peagler and her lawyers as they take on that system.
GL: What impact do you hope Crime After Crime will have?
YP: I hope Crime After Crime will help spark new legislation that can assist incarcerated survivors of abuse, and we’ve already seen great progress toward this end. Laws have been proposed in New York and New Jersey under the title of the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act, sometimes referred to as “Debbie’s Law,” after Deborah Peagler. I’m also working with a group in Illinois that is planning to introduce legislation there.
And I hope that the film simply makes people more aware of the problems that exist in our justice system with regard to domestic violence and sex trafficking. When victims of abuse are accused of crimes, our justice system should really look at the bigger picture. In many cases, victims of abuse had little choice other than to commit a crime, either because an abuser forced them to do so, or because the victims were defending their own lives or the lives of their children. Our society is finally aware of this kind of abuse and we agree that it’s wrong. Now it’s time to make sure our justice system lives up to our values.