Roberto Hernández was trained as a lawyer in Mexico and Canada and had no particular interest in cameras or film until he found himself collecting statistics in the basement of Mexico City’s Superior Court, which houses the archived legal cases of one of the largest cities in the world. What he saw inspired him and his wife, Layda Negrete, to make “El Túnel,” a short documentary that presented scandalous facts about Mexico’s justice system and was broadcast on several television stations throughout Mexico. As a result of the support the film received, in 2008 Mexico’s Congress passed the most significant amendment to its constitution’s due process clause, requiring public trials and the presumption of innocence. But Hernández, currently a graduate student in public policy at the University of California, Berkeley, notes, “The implementation of this reform is hardly progressing at all, as the Mexican government today remains ostensibly focused on an offensive against drug cartels.”
In June 2006, the desperate friends and relatives of an inmate read about “El Túnel” and contacted Hernández and Negrete, pleading for help. The experience of filmmaking was fresh in Hernández’ mind, and it seemed natural for him to record that first meeting. Thus began a two-year production adventure that resulted in Presumed Guilty, a story that changed the young couple’s lives.
Layda Negrete is a lawyer with more than 10 years of experience conducting research on the criminal justice system across Mexico, her country of birth. Her research has been funded by the Hewlett Foundation, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the World Bank. She has designed and conducted surveys for inmates in the states of the Federal District (DF), Mexico, Morelos and Oaxaca and has helped design and administer victimization surveys in Mexico City. Negrete is currently a graduate student in public policy at the University of California, Berkeley.
Born in Melbourne, Australia, Geoffrey Smith began traveling early, discovering a twin love for movies and storytelling along the way. In 1987 he found himself in Haiti, helping to make a documentary about the country’s first election in 31 years. Following the discovery of a massacre of 21 voters in a schoolyard, Smith was himself shot and wounded. After struggling to recover in London, he decided to go back to Haiti to find the man who had nearly killed him — and to film the whole thing. The resulting film, Searching for a Killer, won wide acclaim and was aired on the BBC. Smith discovered that the camera can be a powerful, cathartic tool that helps people through difficult periods and went on to build his subsequent work around that concept.
The winner of numerous awards, Smith has made more than 22 films and has worked for all the major U.K. broadcasters. His POV film The English Surgeon, about neurosurgeon Dr. Henry Marsh and his work in Ukraine, won a Christopher Award and Best International Feature Documentary awards at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival and SILVERDOCS.