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In collaboration with Scribe Video Center’s Producers’ Forum:

Tribal Justice

Dir. Anne Makepeace, US, 2017, 83 min.

Tribal Justice is a feature documentary about a little known, underreported but effective criminal justice reform movement in America today: the efforts of tribal courts to create alternative justice systems based on their traditions. In California, two formidable Native American women are leading the way. Abby Abinanti, Chief Judge of the Yurok Tribe on the northwest coast, and Claudette White, Chief Judge of the Quechan Tribe in the southeastern desert, are creating innovative systems that focus on restoring rather than punishing offenders in order to keep tribal members out of prison, prevent children from being taken from their communities, and stop the school-to-prison pipeline that plagues their young people.

Abby Abinanti is a fierce, lean, elder. Claudette White is younger, and her courtroom style is more conventional in form; but like Abby, her goal is to provide culturally relevant justice to the people who come before her. Observational footage of these judges’ lives and work provides the backbone of the documentary, while the heart of the film follows offenders as their dramatic stories unfold over time, in and out of court. 

ANNE MAKEPEACE, WRITER, PRODUCER, DIRECTOR, has been making award-winning independent films for more three decades. Her new film, Tribal Justice, has screened at many festivals across the country, culminating in a national PBS broadcasts on the excellent series POV. Her previous films include We Still Live Here, about the return of the Wampanoag language, won many awards including the Moving Mountains Award at Telluride Mountain Film Festival.  She has premiered three films at Sundance, won seven Cine Gold Eagles, an Emmy for Robert Capa in Love and War, and top awards from Full Frame, Telluride MountainFilm, and many others.  She is a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and a fellowship from the Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Study. 

The Tribal Justice screening will be followed by a panel discussion on tribal courts and peacemaking with panelists:  Anne Makepeace, the filmmaker, Maggie McKinley (Fond du Lac Band Ojibwe), Assistant Professor of Law at Penn Law School and an expert in constitutional law and federal Indian law, and Shawn Watts (Cherokee), Lecturer in Law at Columbia Law School, founder of the Peace Making Clinic, and consultant to local tribes in the development of peacemaking courts.

This screening is co-sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania Law School and the Film and Media Arts Department at Temple University.