Films & Schedules

  • Witch Hunt

  • Dana Nachman

  • Don Hardy

91 minutes

Production Company:
KTF Films
Executive Producer:
Sean Penn
Dana Nachman, Don Hardy
Written By:
Dana Nachman
Production Designer:
Don Hardy
Don Hardy
Don Hardy
Dave Howe
Joe Rosato Jr.
Principal Cast: John Stoll, Brenda Kniffen, Scott Kniffen, Jack Cummings, Jackie Cummings

International Sales Agent:
Submarine Entertainment

TIFF Tags: Documentary  Abuse  Family 

Sunday September 0706:30PM AMC 6 Add Film to MyTIFF Filmlist
Monday September 0803:30PM AMC 6 Best Bet Add Film to MyTIFF Filmlist
Friday September 1203:00PM AMC 2 Best Bet Add Film to MyTIFF Filmlist

Films about the failures of the legal system, wrongful convictions and the misapplication of justice have been prevalent of late, from the Roman Polanski rape trial to Errol Morris's film on Abu Ghraib. Witch Hunt introduces us to a similarly shocking story, to which Sean Penn has lent his considerable weight as executive producer and narrator. The film follows a score of child-molestation allegations and sex-abuse cases in the California community of Bakersfield that resulted in a rash of convictions during the eighties.

Bakersfield had a history of cowboy-style law enforcement. Concerned about law-and-order issues, the community elected a district attorney determined to crack down on wrongdoing. What followed was a series of scandalous arrests, made all the more astonishing because those condemned were apparently well-adjusted individuals or couples charged with the appalling crime of child molestation – of their own children. In the film, a number of the accused emotionally recount the details of their arrests: unexpected knocks on the door by law officials, children taken away only to reappear in a courtroom as their parents' accusers. The testimony of these children led to prison sentences for their parents, one man for 480 years, another for 749 years.

The local jail began to fill up with alleged child molesters, all proclaiming their innocence. Fearing looming charges, some residents left town only to be hunted down. Next, accusations of satanic rites started to enter the picture. At this point, the state attorney general decided to look deeper into the cases: many were found legally deficient. In several instances, zealous, under-trained social workers had coerced the children into their stories. Eventually, after serving several years of their prison terms, many of the accused were released – and reunited with children who were almost complete strangers.

Penn's narration anchors Don Hardy and Dana Nachman's persuasive depiction of the human cost of these tragedies. While the interviewees share their memories and try to put their lives back together, we can only ask: could this really happen?

Piers Handling

Dana Nachman was born in the Bronx in New York City. A writer, producer and director, she has worked with Don Hardy on many television documentaries. Witch Hunt (08) is their latest collaboration.

Don Hardy is a director, producer and cinematographer born in upstate New York. He has worked with Dana Nachman on numerous television documentaries. Witch Hunt (08) is their latest collaboration.

Cadillac People's Choice Award