Coming to theatres tomorrow, Friday, September 16: SOUTHWEST OF SALEM: THE STORY OF THE SAN ANTONIO FOUR
Deborah S Esquenazi’s look at a case of wrongful conviction debuted at Tribeca earlier this year. The doc also screened at Hot Docs, Sheffield, DocuWest, AFI Docs, Frameline, Outfest, and Inside Out.
As signaled by its somewhat too-reminiscent title, Esquenazi’s film looks at the tragic fallout of 1990s Satanic panic that also claimed the West Memphis Three, as documented in Joe Berlinger’s PARADISE LOST trilogy and Amy Berg’s WEST OF MEMPHIS. In this particular instance, the supposed perpetrators, known by their supporters as the San Antonio Four, faced a quadruple whammy while facing the justice system – not only where they accused of Satanism, but they were women, Latina, and lesbians. Looking back, the accusations against them are so ludicrous it would be laughable, except that these charges put four innocent women behind bars for decades. Lesbian couple Anna and Liz, along with two friends, were accused of gang raping Liz’s two young nieces while babysitting. While there is no physical evidence, and the nieces’ father clearly had it out for Liz, prosecutors trumpeted up outlandish theories and considered the defendants’ sexuality as de facto guilt. After languishing in prison for years, their story eventually comes to the attention of the Innocence Project of Texas, which eventually leads to a more clear-eyed re-examination of the case. Esquenazi’s film is largely compelling, if fairly conventionally constructed, and while it eschews the sensationalism that dogged the women in their trials, it displays a strange lack of urgency that undercuts the women’s desire for a full exoneration. Still, the injustice done to the sympathetic San Antonio Four is clearly conveyed.