Sheffield Doc/Fest Review: Presumed Guilty

 The Documentary Blog’s Sheffield Doc/Fest coverage comes to us thanks to our new UK correspondent Charlotte Cook.

Presumed Guilty is the new film from Geoffrey Smith who made last year’s outstanding documentary, The English Surgeon. This time around he’s sharing the director credit with lawyer Roberto Hernández who shot the majority of the footage.

Geoffrey’s role in this film was to shape and construct a feature documentary from over forty hours of courtroom footage provided by the legal team of Roberto Hernández and Layda Negrete who had felt compelled to document a court case they were fighting in Mexico. The Mexico judicial system works on the basis that someone is guilty until proven innocent and so their prisons are crammed full of people who “might” be guilty. Whilst dipping in and out of incredible access within the prisons, the film centres around the case of José “Toño” Rodriguez, who has been falsely accused of murder and is facing a twenty year jail term.

Luckily the lawyers aren’t strangers to filmmaking having gained success with their previous short documentary The Tunnel, which provoked the release of an innocent man from prison, and so had the foresight to film the court case using a multiple camera setup. This, combined with Geoffrey’s skill at storytelling, creates a tense Law and Order style courtroom drama. As the case progresses the characters within the courthouse and the farcical nature of Mexico’s justice system are so extreme at times it gives the film a shocking level of the blackest comedy and the rollercoaster nature of the outcome of the case is so startling that were it a scripted drama, you wouldn’t believe it.

Presumed Guilty goes far beyond being a snap shot of the flaws of Mexico’s system or even a simple case of injustice but is a film that draws on the conventional structure of a courtroom drama to highlight a story that is so infuriating and emotional that you want to believe it’s not true.

For more information, visit the film’s official website at