Sundance 2018 Panel: “Spotlight on Collaboration: The Sentence”

Adobe and Canon presented an illuminating discussion — held at the Canon Creative Studio in Park City on Main Street — on editing multiple formats for this very personal documentary about crime and punishment.

Jay Holben

From left are editor Viridiana Liberman, AC associate member and discussion moderator Jay Holben and director-cinematographer Rudy Valdez. (Photo for AC by Danna Kinsky)

Adobe and Canon presented an illuminating discussion — held at the Canon Creative Studio in Park City on Main Street — on editing multiple formats for this very personal documentary about crime and punishment.

The Sentence is an extremely emotional and intimate documentary following the impact on a family when a young mother is sentenced to the federal mandatory minimum of 15 years in jail for being complicit in a crime committed six years prior.

Director and cinematographer Rudy Valdez lovingly documents the crushing blow and challenging times his family endured when his sister, Cindy, was sentenced to 15 long years in prison. Her three young daughters, husband, parents, brothers and sisters all struggle to cope with the loss of their loved one in an unfair and unreasonably harsh turn of justice. Joining Valdez on the panel discussion is editor Viridiana Liberman who closely collaborated with Valez over an intense six-month period to craft the very personal documentary. The panel focuses on their process of collaboration including the incorporation of Adobe Premiere and a plethora of media sources from archival Hi-8 video to iPhones to the Canon C300. Aside from the technical aspects, which are discussed in detail, the two bonded very closely over the personal aspects of the production and the very intimate story they were trying to tell.

(Photo by Alex Sax, courtesy of Canon)

The Sentence is a quiet portrayal of a family's loss and pain done in a very private style where Rudy is often speaking to the camera and we see the moments that are normally edited out of a production — setting up of the camera, moments between recordings — that give the doc an almost home movie kind of feel. Valdez was an amateuer filmmaker when he started the documentary, but his skills evolved and he became a professional documentarian over the decade that it took to make The Sentence. He has also been involved in dozens of other productions during that time, including Sebastian Junger's The Last Patrol, Whoopi Goldberg Presents Moms Mabley: I Got Something To Tell You and the New York Times OpDoc BET series Second Coming? Will Black America Decide the 2012 Election?

“Ordinarily, when you're shooting a documentary, the day may be emotionally rough with your subjects, but when you go home you can turn off the cameras and live your life,” attests Valdez. “This wasn't the case for me. For 10 years, I couldn't just turn off the camera because this was my life. That changed me. Every day for a decade I couldn't turn it off. That inspired me to start to talk to the camera directly; to record my own process.”

Valdez confesses that the intimate style was something he deeply questioned. “Early in the process of making this documentary, I was applying for some very prestigious grants and I had the opportunity to talk a very powerful man who ran one of these grant programs. He attacked the film for its intimate and home-movie kind of style, where we see me putting the camera down or setting it up. He said it was ‘very unprofessional and takes the audience out of the movie and it's not what a polished filmmaker does.’ That was a deep gut check for me. I was terrified. Here was this very powerful man, a curator of the documentary film world, telling me I was ‘unprofessional.’ But I stuck to my guns. I had a particular style and way I wanted to tell this story and Viri supported that 100%.”

The result was an explosively emotional story that sends a very strong message about the real costs of mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent crimes. It's a lively panel discussion with two very talented filmmakers. 

Here's a brief look at the production, which was acquired for distribution by HBO:

This panel discussion was live streamed via the AC Facebook page and can be seen here:

Go to our main Sundance page to find other discussions held at the Canon Creative Studio.

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