2018 Sundance Docs in Focus: THE SENTENCE

Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Rudy Valdez reveals the personal impact of mandatory minimum laws on his own family.

Festival Section:
US Documentary Competition

Sundance Program Description:

Drawing from hundreds of hours of footage, filmmaker Rudy Valdez shows the aftermath of his sister Cindy’s incarceration for conspiracy charges related to crimes committed by her deceased ex-boyfriend – something known, in legal terms, as “the girlfriend problem.” Cindy’s 15-year mandatory sentence is hard on everyone, but for her husband and children, Cindy’s sudden banishment feels like a kind of death that becomes increasingly difficult to grapple with.

Valdez’s method of coping with this tragedy is to film his sister’s family for her, both the everyday details and the milestones – moments Cindy herself can no longer share in. But in the midst of this nightmare, Valdez finds his voice as both a filmmaker and activist, and he and his family begin to fight for Cindy’s release during the last months of the Obama administration’s clemency initiative. Whether their attempts will allow Cindy to break free of her draconian sentence becomes the aching question at the core of this riveting and deeply personal portrait of a family in crisis.

Some Background:

  • Rudy Valdez
    Past Sundance docs:

    TIME: THE KALIEF BROWDER STORY (2017, additional photography)
    REMEMBERING THE ARTIST, ROBERT DE NIRO, SR (short) (2014, cinematographer)

    After extensive experience as a cinematographer, this marks Valdez’s directorial debut.


  • Sam Bisbee and Jackie Kelman Bisbee

    The Bisbees have produced several Sundance narrative feature alumni projects, most recently THE HERO (2017), OTHER PEOPLE (2016), and COP CAR (2015), through their company Park Pictures. They also bring two narratives to Sundance 2018, Next entry AN EVENING WITH BEVERLY LUFF LINN and closing night Premieres title HEARTS BEAT LOUD. This marks their first documentary project at the festival.


  • Geeta Gandbhir
    Recent past Sundance docs:

    OJ: MADE IN AMERICA (2016, consulting editor)

    Gandbhir is a two-time Emmy winning editor who has also been directing and producing documentaries in more recent years, most lately I AM EVIDENCE.

  • April Hayes

    This is the first Sundance project for Hayes.

Executive Producers:

  • Wendy Neu

    Entrepreneur and activist Neu is CEO of electronics recycling firm Hugo Neu and the sister of producer Jackie Kelman Bisbee. She previously executive produced Park Pictures’ Sundance narrative feature GOD’S POCKET (2014), but this marks her first Sundance doc project.

  • Lance Acord
    Past Sundance docs:

    AMARILLO BY MORNING (short) (1998, cinematographer)

    Acord is an acclaimed cinematographer and co-owner of Park Pictures, together with Kelman Bisbee, and shares producing credits for the same Sundance alums and 2018 fiction features.

  • Theodora Dunlap

    Dunlap is also part of Park Pictures and has producing credits for the same past and upcoming festival titles.


Why You Should Watch:
In training his camera on his own family members, Valdez simply but effectively personalizes the human cost of a criminal justice system that preferences punishment over justice. His deeply affecting project captures the moments his sister is missing and presents them to the viewer as a heartfelt prodding to advocate for a more compassionate approach.

More Info:
Sundance’s Meet the Artist

For Sundance screening dates and times, click the film title in the first paragraph.

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Filed under Documentary, Film, Film Festivals, Recommendations, Sundance

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