Arts & Culture

The Big Jewcy: Eric Forman – Activist Documentarian

While most filmmakers dream of the Hollywood red carpet, Eric has his sights on a screening for the graduating class of Harvard Law. Read More

By / June 15, 2011
Jewcy loves trees! Please don't print!

Eric Forman is a Brooklyn-based documentary producer/director bent on the possibility of film as a tool for education, justice, and change. What separates Eric from the pack is his stubborn decision to only work on high-quality long form non-fiction films, even though such projects are extremely scarce. While many filmmakers dream of the Hollywood red carpet, Eric fantasizes about a debut on PBS’ FRONTLINE or a screening for the graduating class of Harvard Law. I had the pleasure of attending a fundraising event for DEAD TIME, a long-term documentary film project Eric is working on concerning an active capital punishment case. Sister Helen Prejean, the author and real life protagonist of Dead Man Walking addressed the small crowd who had gathered in Victor Navasky’s Upper West Side home for the Bob Balaban hosted event. She stressed “this is how slavery ended. Small gatherings of well-intentioned people who wanted to fix big problems.” Eric nodded in the corner.

I hear it’s your birthday – happy birthday! What’s your goal for this next year of your life?

Thank you. My goal is pretty simple: to keep active in the trade of documentary and keep meeting new and interesting people in the documentary community.

Besides DEAD TIME, what are working on these days?

I’m also working as the Coordinating Producer at Storyville Films and we have a bunch of great new projects. Risk Takers is one – it’s a documentary series about the new generation of entrepreneurs and leaders who are changing the way we live. That airs in July on Bloomberg TV and the profiles are tremendously engaging. Makers: Women Who Make America is another – it’s the never-before-told story of women’s advancement in America, featuring the most influential women of the past 50 years and today. It is such an inspiring project and I feel honored to be able to work on it along with a great team.

I understand that you can’t talk about the specifics of DEAD TIME as it relates to an active capital punishment case, but what can you tell me?

If you look at the data, most executions take place in the South. The story I’m telling is about a specific case in Talladega County, Alabama, but it’s representative of the larger problem. It’s a socioeconomic problem. If you are poor, you don’t have access to the legal resources you need to fight these complex capital cases – no matter what race you are. In the particular case I’ve been following, the prisoner is claiming “actual innocence,” meaning that his argument is that he wasn’t even at the scene of the crime, which is quite rare.

I want to humanize the issue, by telling this particular man’s story. By following the case over a number of years I want the viewer to get to know the inmate, his wife, and his family, as well as the victim’s family. I’m attracted to it as a storyteller and as an activist.

So who’s the audience for this?

Ideally policy makers and law school students. National broadcasts are great, but I’d like to encourage lawmakers to reassess, and encourage law school students to do more pro-bono work. It will also potentially be launched along with an App or another new media platform to align a number of different technologies and make the most impact.

Have you come away having more empathy for death row inmates?

My choice of subject matter makes it pretty obvious that I think this is a problem. I don’t want to make general, vague statements though, my goal is to show the intimate details – to get at the complexity of this issue – and to show these are real people suffering – both the inmates and the victims.

What lead you to documentary filmmaking?

I’m drawn to the educational value. We need more than entertainment. From a societal perspective we need to invest in films that challenge us.

I attended a screening of a film you helped produce, The Battle of Durban II: Israel, Palestine & The United Nations at the Simon Wiesenthal Center. With the 10-year anniversary of the first World Conference Against Racism coming up this September, what’s your prediction of what will happen this year at Durban III?

Unfortunately the UN is glacially slow. When the world wants to come together to make a decision it’s simply inefficient. In my opinion, there are many larger negotiating games going on at the UN with Israel stuck in the middle of a lot of conversations that have nothing to do with Israel.

So does the conversation matter?

Absolutely! Now that Obama has shown he understands what the UN can do and what alliances he can put together, there is some hope. Look at the coalition he and Susan Rice put together to approve military intervention in Libya with China and Russia onboard! Unheard of. I know the US isn’t attending Durban, but somebody needs to counter Ahmadinejad if he shows up again – it could happen. We’re trying to set up some screenings now to build awareness in advance of the conference.

Eric Forman is a member of the Filmmakers Collaborative, a non-profit organization that provides fiscal sponsorship and professional development for independent filmmakers. To make a tax-deductible donation to Eric’s film DEAD TIME via the Filmmakers Collaborative, CLICK HERE.