"At The Death House Door" ****

May 14, 2008

I've been a founding member of the wonderful AFI Silver Theater in Silver Spring since 2004 and this evening is a perfect example of why I became a member! This one time showing of this wonderful documentary with a fabulous following discussion by the filmmakers and the subject of the film made it well worth the trip down Rt 29. The pedigree of this doc made it absolutely imperative that I attend. Directors Steve James (who made one of the greatest documentaries of all time in "Hoop Dreams"), and Pete Gilbert (cinematographer for docs "Stevie" & "Prefontaine") have created an amazing portrait of jailhouse priest and choir director, Carroll Pickett who, before he retired, accompanied 95 inmates on their way to their execution at the infamous "Walls" prison in Huntsville, Texas. A staunch anti-death penalty advocate, he initially took the job despite witnessing 2 of his parishioners slaughtered after a botched jail house kidnapping years before at the same prison. What is even more amazing was that in order to reconcile his beliefs with his job, as therapy, he secretly recorded his thoughts to a tape recorder that even his 2nd wife didn't know about until he revealed their existence to 2 Chicago Tribune reporters. (She remarked that her husband never cried-that the tapes were his tears.) What transpires is actually 2 journeys: the professional and the personal. The main focus of the film centers on one Carlos De Luna-a poor schlub who was executed in 1989. Compelling evidence is presented that Carlos was clearly innocent-a fact that Pickett believed even as he walked with him to the execution chamber. Pickett's personal journey and torment, though, are the main focus that, after the final reel, might have you either rethinking or strengthening your position on this controversial subject. Powerful! (The filmmakers said that it will not be distributed to theaters but will be shown on IFC sometime in the future. Be sure to look for it!!)