Crime After Crime

Filmmaker Yoav Potash’s truly incredible documentary “Crime After Crime” is more dramatic than any work of fiction.  It is an important, moving, suspenseful and infuriating true life drama.

I have seen “Crime After Crime” twice and could not be more enthusiastic about it.   I first saw the film several months ago, at a press screening for the “New York Jewish Film Festival” at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, and was thrilled to see that it is has finally been given a theatrical release, at the IFC Center.  I went to see “Crime After Crime” again last week and was glad to find that the film has lost none of its power.  Sadly, as I write this, the only show time now listed at the IFC Center (in NY) for “Crime After Crime” is at 10:45 am, which is truly a shame.  While it may not last there much longer, I hope it will have a life somewhere else. 

“Crime After Crime” tells the story of the legal battle to free Debbie Peagler, an African American woman, in LA, imprisoned for 25 years to life for first degree murder of her abusive boyfriend, Oliver Wilson.  Wilson beat Peagler and forced her into prostitution.  When Peagler tried to escape, Wilson and a group of men showed up, armed and threatening, at the house where she was staying.  Shortly after this incident Wilson was murdered by members of the Crips street gang.   Peagler did play a part in the murder, as she had lured Wilson to the park where he was killed.

Threatened with the death penalty, Peagler pled guilty.  In 1983, when this happened, little was known about domestic violence.  The abuse Peagler suffered would not have even been admissible as evidence in her defense in the early eighties.   Had Peagler been charged appropriately, for manslaughter instead of murder, she would have served a maximum of six years.  Cut to nearly 20 years later.  In 2002 California became the only state in the country to pass a law allowing victims of domestic violence, who have killed their abusers, to have their cases reopened.  The only problem is most of these women do not have the means to hire attorneys.

California’s Habeas Project, an advocacy group for reducing the sentences of victims of domestic violence, provides Peagler with two pro bono (free) lawyers.   Attorneys Joshua Safron and Nadia Costa, neither of whom is a criminal lawyer, take on Peagler’s  case.  Safron is an orthodox Jew who believes, “It is a Jewish obligation to free those who are bound.”  Costa is an amateur marathon runner who has had her own first hand experience with abuse.  They are joined by investigator Bobby Buechler, who refers to himself as “the old man of the group.”  The unlikely trio works tirelessly, over years, trying to free Peagler.  It proves to be an arduous, road-block filled process.

Potash who, amazingly, directed, co-produced, co-photographed and edited “Crime After Crime” was certainly given full access to the people and the story.  He has edited years of footage down to a tight and taut 93 minutes.  Potash keeps his narrative clear, resorting, at two points, to having attorney Safron draw pictures on a board to illustrate and clarify the legal goals, issues and maneuvers at work.  The technique works beautifully.  Potash manages to seamlessly weave in the back-stories and personal lives of Peagler, her two attorneys, investigator and members of Peagler’s family.  The result is a fascinating legal procedural that, more important, is a stunning human drama with unforgettable characters.

IFC Center is located at 323 Sixth Avenue at 3rd Street.

“Crime After Crime,” director Yoav Potash, 2011,

OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Newtork, 93 minutes



About unpaidfilmcritic

Up until 2009 Seth Shire spent nearly two decades in the New York film industry as a post production supervisor of feature films. Highlights include working on the films of Martin Scorsese, James Toback and Spike Lee. Since leaving the film industry Seth has expanded into new and varied areas where he has found a great deal of satisfaction. Seth currently teaches in the Sociology Department of CUNY Queens College. His courses include "Mass Media and Popular Culture," "Introduction to Sociology," and "Sociology of Cinema" where he is a very popular teacher. Seth is also the film critic for "Town & Village," a Manhattan weekly newspaper, a position he has held for the past six years. Seth gives back to his community through volunteer teaching at Manhattan's "The Caring Community," a center for senior citizens, where he teaches a very popular course on documentaries called "The Golden Age of the Documentary. In the fall of 2010 Seth taught "Critical Reading and Writing" at Parsons School of Design. He has also taught "Cinema Studies" at the New York Film Academy. Seth lives in Stuyvesant Town, in Manhattan.

Posted on July 12, 2011, in Documentary, New. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Having seen “Crime After Crime,” I , again, must commend you on a “stunning” review–terse, and to the point. “Crime After Crime” is a shocker; while watching, one wonders what kind of country do we live in? When one gets caught inthe labyrinth of the criminal justice system, it can be hopeless. This movie reminds us that there is hope, and don’t forget the message of “Shawshank”-hope is a good thing.

    This film will be nominated for best documentary of 2011, and will win.

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