Santa Barbara 2017
Brooklyn, Berkshire, Big Sky Doc, Full Frame, Woods Hole
A portrait of two Native American tribal court judges in California.
Makepeace’s film explores the tribal court system of the two largest tribes in California, the Yurok in the north and the Quechan in the South, through the caseloads of Abby (Yurok) and Claudette (Quechan). Because the tribes are sovereign nations, they are able to work with the California state courts in many cases to take over jurisdiction of certain matters related to their tribespeople. In contrast to conventional Western conceptions of the judicial system as a place for punishment, the tribal court system instead practices restorative justice, with the aim to reform offenders or issues within the community so that they can escape from cyclical patterns of recidivism and crime. While Abby largely deals with community matters – addiction, substance abuse, child welfare – Claudette’s story is more complicated in that also herself becomes part of the court system as the guardian of her wayward nephew, Isaac, a 17-year-old just steps away from becoming another statistic in state prison. Makepeace takes a no-frills but effective approach, and benefits from two appealing protagonists, in exploring the possibilities – and limits – of restorative vs punitive justice.