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'Presumed Guilty': New film exposes flaws in Mexico judiciary

A Mexican judge on Monday ruled that 'Presunto Culpable' (Presumed Guilty) can continue showing in theaters. Mexico City's mayor, after seeing the film, pledged to place cameras in his courtrooms.

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Antonio Zuniga, the protagonist of the documentary 'Presumed Guilty,' poses for a photo in Mexico City, Wednesday, Feb. 16. The award-winning film's directors and protagonist hope it galvanizes Mexicans to demand changes to their failed legal system.

Alexandre Meneghini/AP

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The fact that a documentary about Mexico’s faulty judicial system was pulled from Mexican theaters has made it all the more appealing to moviegoers, helping turn it into the highest-grossing documentary in Mexican history and sparking talk among this country's leaders of judicial reform.

A federal judge on March 2 banned “Presunto Culpable” (Presumed Guilty) after the directors were sued for filming one person without permission. The film, about a convicted murderer who spent two years successfully proving his innocence, won the audience award for best international feature at the 2010 Los Angeles Film Festival and began showing here in February.

The film was briefly suspended, but the ban was legally challenged last week and the film continued showing in theaters while the case pended. As the news circulated, the irony that a film about Mexico’s opaque justice system was being “censored” by that very system drove the Mexican media into a frenzy, bringing in more publicity than the promoters could have dreamed of.

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By the time the court stay against the film was officially lifted March 14, box office sales had doubled from 6.4 million pesos ($535,000) per weekend one month ago to 12.5 million ($1.05 million) this past weekend, the daily Milenio newspaper reported.

Walk by any street vendor selling pirated movies in Mexico City and chances are "Presumed Guilty" is blaring from a hotwired TV monitor instead of the usual Hollywood blockbuster. The city’s mayor, Marcelo Ebrard, was so inspired that he pledged to place cameras in his courtrooms.

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