The Austin Chronicle

'State vs. Reed' Gaining Steam: Pair's First Doc Becoming the Story

By Frank Rivera, April 14, 2006, Screens

"Our whole ambition was to expose this case. If we don't ruffle feathers," says Frank Bustoz, "they're not going to admit fault." Having recently received a SXSW Film 06 jury prize for their freshman effort, Bustoz and partner Ryan Polomski are rekindling a dialogue between a torn community and the justice system designed to protect it. State vs. Reed – a documentary examining the questionable events surrounding the conviction and sentencing of death row inmate Rodney Reed – was screened at Bastrop's Kerr Community Center on March 25. Exhibiting their subpoenaed film a day after the hearing to determine whether Reed is eligible for a retrial and in the community where the convicted's family members reside, Bustoz and Polomski are not shying away from the attention SXSW afforded them. Their intention is to focus interest back on Reed's case during a pivotal stage. "Reed needs a new trial," Polomski says, "and it needs to be outside Bastrop." The film is so far having the desired effect. "Suddenly, a lot more people know who Rodney Reed is," says Bryan McCann, co-chair of media relations for the Campaign to End the Death Penalty. Groups like the CEDP, Texas Students Against the Death Penalty, and Amnesty International have argued on Reed's behalf since 2000; however, with more than 400 prisoners on death row in Texas alone, State vs. Reed draws attention away from moral arguments to issues of evidence and faulty legal representation.

"I'm not trying to bang the drum against the death penalty," says Polomski, "[but] the string of events is completely unfathomable, the events that put him on death row." The events Bustoz and Polomski target include: DNA evidence that was never made available to the defense; the vehicle that transported the victim was placed in the possession of the other main suspect a day after the murder and before a complete forensic analysis was conducted; and the apparent lack of witnesses called on Reed's behalf to offer an alibi or provide necessary information about the romantic relationship he might have had with the victim.

With an additional Kerr Center viewing on April 22, three airings of the documentary on Bastrop's Community Access Television station, plans for a fundraiser at the Millennium Theatre, and designs on the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar and Texas Union, Bustoz and Polomski are taking their message to as many venues as possible. The CEDP and like-minded organizations plan to use these screenings as rallying points. Responding to the concern that State vs. Reed is a stone dropped into a sea of complacency, "[It is the] jobs of groups like us to make sure that doesn't happen," McCann says. "Anytime there is a local screening, we get involved."

This isn't exactly a concern for Bustoz and Polomski. As the worlds of film and social activism converge, the directors don't care who co-opts their message as long as it engenders debate. "Until he gets at least a retrial," Bustoz says, "we haven't achieved our bottom goal."

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