Doc fest world premiere “The Innocent” tells exonerated death row inmates’ personal stories

Music documentarian Lauri Feldman has seen her career take a substantial turn with “The Innocent,” her feature doc about exonerated death row inmates that has its world premiere April 3 in the third annual Chicago International Documentary Festival.

“It was a really big change to work on such a meaningful project,” said Feldman.

“For the first few years [on ?The Innocent’] I was also doing more lighthearted jobs, but in the past year this project has required everything.”

“The Innocent” grew out of Feldman’s 1998 short “Life After Death Row,” in which former Northwestern law professor Larry Marshall, founder of the University’s Center on Wrongful Convictions, brought together death row survivors from across the country whose sentences had been overturned after they were proven innocent.

Feldman, and producing partner Michael Husain of Indianapolis-based Pathway Productions, went on to conduct extensive interviews with 35 of the freed inmates.

“It was a life-changing experience to do those interviews,” Feldman said, “hearing how these people found ways of surviving death row. They were at rock bottom and were about to be executed. They had to dig down into themselves to sustain themselves spiritually and emotionally.”

Feldman, Husain and executive producer Jane Abramson formed Little Engine Films to produce “The Innocent,” raising the $250,000 cash and $75,000 in-kind budget from private investors.

“The Innocent” traces Gov. George Ryan’s evolving stance on capital punishment, as Marshall’s high profile exonerations pushed the governor to declare the Illinois death penalty moratorium in 2000, and to commute the sentences of all the state’s death row inmates to life in prison, shortly before he left office in 2003.

The doc follows six inmates from their arrest through their release from prison, granting a glimpse into their inner lives.

“Our film captures the personal and emotional stories of death row and its aftermath,” Feldman said. “[In ?The Innocent,’] we’re hearing what it was like, not from experts, but from the people themselves who had that experience. They’re the only ones who know. It’s their film ? we just gave them a platform to tell their stories.”

Kartemquin co-founder Sharon Karp (“Hoop Dreams”) is editing.

Feldman and Husain worked together at Towers Productions and collaborated on several music docs for VH1, as well as the Court TV pilot “The Wrong Man.” Feldman was executive producer of “Lilith Fair: A Celebration of Women in Music,” a 1997 doc about the concert tour which was released by Imagine Entertainment.

“The Innocent” debuts Sunday, April 3 at 5:30 p.m. at the Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division. The film will also screen May 14 at Northwestern’s Thorne Auditorium, and in a $75 benefit screening May 15 for the Center on Wrongful Convictions at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Reach Feldman at

The Chicago International Documentary Festival runs April 1-10. See