Me Facing Life: Cyntoia’s Story

March 01, 2011

by

Daniel H. Birman

In 2004, Cyntoia Brown was arrested for murder. What led a girl to this tragic end?

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About the Documentary

In 2004, Cyntoia Brown was arrested for murder. There was no question that a 43-year-old man is dead and that she killed him. What mystified filmmaker Daniel Birman was just how common violence among youth is, and just how rarely we stop to question our assumptions about it. He wondered in this case what led a girl — who grew up in a reasonable home environment — to this tragic end?

Me Facing Life: Cyntoia’s Story explores Cyntoia’s history and her future. Without attempting to excuse her crime as youthful indiscretion nor to vilify her as an example of a generation gone off the rails, Birman simply follows Cyntoia through six years of her life after the crime, and searches for answers to persistent questions.

The camera first glimpses Cyntoia the week of her arrest at age 16 and follows her for nearly six years. Along the way, nationally renowned juvenile forensic psychiatrist, Dr. William Bernet from Vanderbilt University, assesses her situation. We meet Ellenette Brown, Cyntoia’s adoptive mother who talks about the young girl’s early years. Georgina Mitchell, Cyntoia’s biological mother, meets her for the first time since she gave her up for adoption 14 years earlier. When we meet Cyntoia’s maternal grandmother, Joan Warren, some patterns begin to come into sharp focus.

Cyntoia wrestles with her fate. She is stunningly articulate, and spends the time to put the pieces of this puzzle together with us. Cyntoia’s pre-prison lifestyle was nearly indistinguishable from her mother’s at the same age. History — seemingly predestined by biology and circumstance — repeats itself through each generation in this family.

Cyntoia is tried as an adult, and the cameras are there when she is convicted and sentenced to life at the Tennessee Prison for Women. After the verdict, Cyntoia calls her mom to tell her the news.

In the end, we catch up with Cyntoia as she is adjusting to prison, and struggling with her identity and hope for her future.


The Filmmaker

Daniel H. Birman is the producer and director of Me Facing Life: Cyntoia’s Story. Previously, Birman produced the highly acclaimed documentary Brace for Impact: The Chesley B. Sullenberger Story, which aired on TLC and the Discovery Channel.

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Crimes committed by juveniles have been on the decline since 1994, while the number of minors tried as adults has soared in the same period. Do you believe the adult criminal justice system is the appropriate venue for punishing and rehabilitating minors?

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