- The Pakistani-Indian-Canadian’s edgy documentary “Conviction” is part of her effort to bring to light stories that explore wrongful convictions.
I recently watched an award-winning 2020 documentary “Conviction” made by a talented, bold, and young filmmaker, Jia Wertz (Rizvi). The Pakistani-Indian-Canadian is a native of Calgary settled in New York City. She also co-hosts a true-crime podcast series along with John Gully, investigating mysterious unsolved cases about real people, real stories and real crimes, called “Speaking of Crime.”
“Conviction,” an edgy documentary, is a true story based on the life of a 16-year-old Jeffrey Deskovic who was convicted for the rape and murder of Angela Correa, his high school classmate. It was a case of mistaken identity, and a young boy with dreams just vanquished into a prison cell. His civil liberties and freedoms were stripped off without recourse to a fair trial. His fight for freedom and his ability to triumph over his bondage is heroic.
“Conviction” throws light on the inherent flaws in the American justice system, especially for people of color and minorities. Jeff’s story exposes a lot of inhumane behavior that goes on behind closed doors. Jeff speaks out for so many prisoners when he asks: “It is enough punishment to take away someone’s freedom but is it okay to treat prisoners in a sadistic way?” It is nothing short of a miracle that Jeffrey Deskovic overcomes his conviction and emerges on the other side of society as a whole human being. It is a testament to the indomitable spirit of an innocent person.
I had the pleasure of asking Jia a few questions about her documentary and her career. She said, “My journey into filmmaking came about after I listened to the “Serial” podcast and learned of Adnan Syed’s story. I was shocked and saddened by Adnan’s wrongful conviction and was reminded of my favorite book, Rubin Carter’s “The Sixteenth Round,” which I had read decades ago. I started to explore what I could do to help people who have been unjustly imprisoned and initially held a fundraiser for Adnan’s legal defense fund, which led to meeting his family, learning more about his case, and attending his post-conviction hearing.”
The pivotal moment that drove Jia into making the documentary was at Adnan’s post-conviction hearing in Baltimore. Amy Berg’s team was there filming the HBO docuseries ‘The Case Against Adnan Syed’ and a light bulb just went off. Jia realized that to reach a large audience and impact change, she could use the medium of film. Once she had the idea, the real labor of love began to bring it to fruition.
As an independent filmmaker, Jia did not have time for fundraising. She used her family funds for the project. She wanted to have full control over her narrative and how she wanted to portray it. She did not want to muddy the waters by accepting external funding. So, she set to work with a small but dedicated team. The film was completed and it packed a punch.
To Jia’s awe, “Conviction” was quickly accepted in many film festivals. Since then the film has screened around the world at more than 15 film festivals and won some awards – so it’s been very rewarding, Jia says. “The most rewarding moment was when I attended a film festival in Atlanta with Jeff, and we won Best Picture that night, and I got to witness how happy Jeff was to receive that award in person,” she added.
Jia is now working on a feature-length version of the documentary. Jeff’s story spans decades and has so many triumphs that it will do justice to a full feature. Jia hopes to share stories of other innocent people who are currently wrongfully incarcerated in the hopes that amplifying their voices will help them in a meaningful way as they try and gain their freedom.
Shooting in the prison and obtaining prison footage, especially during the pandemic when all visits to prisons were shut down completely was a challenge, Jia says. I watched the film and marveled at Jia’s editing skills. The short film is to the point and focuses on the critical parts of Jeff’s life to carry the crucial message across. I am sure she will focus on other aspects in the feature version. It is a bold step for an Indie filmmaker but boldness has genius embedded in it.
“Conviction” is streaming on Amazon Prime. I highly recommend it.
With one foot in Huntsville, Alabama, the other in her birth home India and a heart steeped in humanity, writing is a contemplative practice for Monita Soni. She has published hundreds of poems, movie reviews, book critiques, and essays and contributed to combined literary works. Her two books are My Light Reflections and Flow through My Heart. You can hear her commentaries on Sundial Writers Corner WLRH 89.3FM.