Last Day of Freedom

Filmmaker Q&A with Director Nomi Talisman

Is there a particular documentary film or filmmaker that had a major influence on your career?

Warner Herzog, Errol Morris, Laura Poitras, Frederick Wiseman to name only some…


What motivated you to make this film?

Working with Death-Penalty mitigation specialists, we got to know the families of the defenders. We realized this voice is missing from any current conversation regarding the criminal justice in the US – and that these people are usually portrayed as raising monsters, being judged themselves for something they did not do. The human aspect of how the death penalty effects families and whole communities, and its devastating effect on these motivated us to tell this story.


Please tell us what camera(s) you shot with primarily – and any other special equipment that you used and why you used it.

Simple HD panasonic, and some D70 DSLR footage too – the filming was less important than post, as the film was animated.


Please tell us about any special styles or techniques that you used during the production of your film to help tell your story.

Frame by frame drawn animation.


How did your story evolve from day one, to the very last day in post? Is your story what you thought it would be?

The story was originally planned to be a weaving of three narratives, into TV or feature length animated doc. Due to lack of funding and stories not fitting, we decided to focus on one story and make a short piece. Never made a better decision in our career!


Please describe the most rewarding experience you had while making this film.

While making the film, we were honored to see the impact on our subject, Bill, and what a healing experience that was for him. It was especially rewarding showing work-in-progress to colleagues – both artists and filmmakers, and to see how they responded positively – and lastly, when death penalty activists and advocates became slowly involved in the process.


What advice can you give to other impact filmmakers?

Just do it. Find your supporters, cheerleaders and mentors, find the people you trust to show work-in-progress and bounce ideas by. But most of all, do it.


What’s your favorite part about the filmmaking process and why?

Figuring out WHERE the story is. It’s the heart and core of what we do and why we do it – caring. Next comes figuring out HOW to tell the story.


What’s the one item you always take with you when working out in the field and why?

A camera, preferably small DSLR – that would allow to grab whatever opportunity that comes (extra battery and memory card would help too….)


Please share a personal story about your experience making this film.

It must be when we started to animate the film, just a tiny bit, a scene, to be used for fundraising. We spent a whole summer drawing our subject, Bill Babbitt talking to the camera and crying. After nearly 3 months we had about 90 seconds animated. The line moved! It looked real! We were so excited, and felt that we have something unique to make – and at the same time we realized there’s no way we can do this all by ourselves with no support. It felt truly inspiring and exciting to see the result – but looking at the rest of the footage, not animated, was daunting…


Can you describe any obstacles you encountered in making your film and/or in your distribution/exhibition efforts?

To begin with, no one wanted to fund an animated doc about the death penalty, mostly, because it was our very first documentary. It was hard to convince anyone that we can pull this off. Once small grants started to come in, and then we had a bit of funding to get help support with better equipment and assistants, more funders came in, and made it possible. After the first festival, we started getting very positive responses, and eventually it became much easier to screen and exhibit the film.


What do you want audiences to take away from your film?

That we’re all part of the system, as Bill says, and even if we think that the Death Penalty has nothing to do with us, we should look again and see how all the political, social, judicial systems are connected, and no one is really insulated or ‘protected’ from being part of a larger circle and community. We are all responsible.


Please list key points that should be covered in a post-screening discussion:

Criminal justice; Harsh punishment; Race; Care for veterans, homeless, and generally speaking vulnerable populations


Please provide information on any recent developments regarding the issue or subjects of the film. How have things changed or not changed?

Unfortunately, CA voted to restore the death penalty after nearly a decade of stay of executions because of drug protocol. Other states are still battling this issue. The federal govt. is sure not interested in fixing the problems around it, let alone find it unconstitutional.


What opportunities are available for those interested in getting further involved?

Check out organizations such as Equal Justice USA, ACLU (local chapters & national campaigns), Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), and support your public defenders!


Please provide any additional resources (websites, links to additional videos, forms, articles, etc.): 

Capital Punishment & American Condition – Austin Sarat



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