Deadline Katy Chevigny and Kirsten Johnson

What if the fate of 167 people fell squarely into your hands, some guilty of atrocious crimes and others maybe not? Could you deliver death to the lot knowing there may be an innocent soul among them? Illinois Governor George Ryan faced just this during his final month in office in January 2003, when the preceding months witnessed the convictions of over a dozen inmates on death row overturned after a group of University journalism students proved without a doubt that all 13 were wrongly found guilty. Forget the Chinese Zodiac, 2004 is the year of the documentary, and in the wake of the mainstream cinematic successes of Fahrenheit 9/11 and Super Size Me, the floodgates have been opened for a whole new wave of docs that ask the hard questions. Chevigny and Johnson's Deadline does just that. And despite the film's main focus being on the weeks leading up to Governor Ryan's landmark decision, it aspires to go beyond this by delving into the history of the death penalty in America, including the 1972 case of Furman vs. Georgia, where the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that punishment by death was cruel and unusual (effectively halting all executions in the United States for five years). Despite the trappings of an obviously low budget, Deadline excels. The directors make the best of every single resource they have available to them, including old archival footage, access to the Illinois clemency trials (complete with victim impact statements) and a veritable landslide of statistics and facts. Chevigny and Johnson also interview parties from both sides of the raging capital punishment debate (including scholars, journalists, politicians, legal professionals, inmates and pardoned convicts). Deadline may not change anyone's long-established beliefs, but it certainly brings attention to some gaping cracks in the system. It can be said that the best documentaries make people think and ask questions, and by that criteria Deadline, low budget limitations aside, holds its own amongst the big boys. (Home Vision/Morningstar)