"Deadline, an excellent documentary...chronicling the astonishingly
flawed criminal justice system in Illinois."�
--Richard Roeper, Chicago Sun-Times
"The film is an example of social activism at its best; it's not only
enlightening, but it's an engrossing story that a smart television
audience should embrace."
--James Greenberg, The Hollywood Reporter
"It gives you a chance to ruminate on some crucial questions of human
error, justice and life-and-death."
--Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune
" ... an excellent film. See it."
--Melissa Levine, San Francisco Weekly
Illinois, Fall 2002: Governor George Ryan faces shocking findings about flaws in his state’s capital punishment system that call his long-held beliefs into question. Suddenly, he must make one of the most difficult decisions of his life—to ignore this disturbing evidence, or to transform the entire Illinois capital punishment system. The stakes of this decision are the lives of over 170 people, and Ryan’s own political career. And he has only a few months to issue his final decision. Deadline, captures the ensuing dramatic series of events as they unfold.
At first glance, Governor Ryan is an unlikely protagonist. For twenty years, he was a tough-on-crime, pro-death penalty Republican. Voters elected him because they believed he would maintain the status quo, follow the party line, not rock the boat. But, shortly after he became governor, a group of undergraduate journalism students at Northwestern University discovered important evidence that proved a man on death row, Anthony Porter, was wrongly convicted. Their revelation came just a few hours before the man’s scheduled execution. Then another death row inmate was found innocent. And another. Reporters from The Chicago Tribune unearthed alarming evidence suggesting that there could be no absolute guarantee that the Illinois criminal justice system has not, nor would ever, execute an innocent person.
Deeply worried by this information, the governor took action. He set up special clemency hearings for each person on death row. Each inmate’s lawyer was given one-half hour to make a case for his or her client’s life; each prosecutor was allotted an equal time to prove the need for the inmate’s execution. This was human drama in its rawest, most urgent form.
With astounding access to these hearings, Death Row prisoners, exonerated men and Governor Ryan himself, Deadline, brings us directly into the emotional and legal storm surrounding Ryan’s impending decision. Viewers are pulled into the story as families exchange pleas for forgiveness or revenge; as an exonerated man in Florida tries to pull the pieces of his shattered life back together; and as a man reflects on his crime and the consequences. The filmmakers also shed light on the United States’ complicated relationship with the death penalty, using archival flashbacks to the landmark decisions and capital punishment policies implemented in the 1970’s that brought the U.S.—and Governor Ryan—to where they are today.
As his term ticked to a close, the nation waited anxiously for Governor Ryan to decide the fate of the condemned men and women of Illinois.
And Ryan waited until the last minute to decide. On January 10, 2003, just three days before his last day in office, he shocked the nation by pardoning four men. But it was his move the next day that changed the course of judicial history in the United States. Unwilling to uphold a system he found to be fraught with error, Ryan granted blanket clemency to the remaining 167 people on Illinois’ Death Row, an unprecedented move for a U.S. governor.
Deadline directors Katy Chevigny and Kirsten Johnson tackle the volatile topic of the American capital punishment system with intelligence, compassion and balance. Furthermore, they capture the extraordinary transformation of one man who holds the power of life and death in his hands.
Deadline is New York-based Big Mouth Productions’ sixth feature-length documentary film and both Johnson and Chevigny’s second film. Chevigny's directorial debut was Journey to the West: Chinese Medicine Today (2002), distributed by Wellspring Media. Johnson's previous film, Innocent Until Proven Guilty, premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival in 1999 and was featured on HBO.