Filmmaker's Name: Florent Vassault
Film Title: LINDY LOU, JUROR NUMBER 2 (Mississippi Premiere)
In 50 words or less, what is your film about?
In 1994, Lindy Lou Wells was part of a jury who sentenced Bobby Wilcher to the death penalty. This experience was a turning point in her life and, twenty years later, she sets out an unconventional journey to find out how her 11 fellow jurors were affected by this verdict.
What was your motivation to make this film… why this film, and why now?
While traveling through the US, and especially in the South, I have always been struck by the deep attachment of many Americans to the death penalty. To some extent, for some people, it can even be a "belief", a "faith" in capital punishment and this is what I wanted to explore with this film : what becomes of such a "belief" once ordinary citizen actually have to face the reality of the death penalty.
Obviously, what was interesting to me with the jurors was that anybody could relate to them as anybody could be called to participate in a jury on a death-penalty case. In a way, it brings the death penalty closer to us, far from this vague idea most people have about it. It really tries to give a sense of what it means to have a hand in someone's death. So this is not a film about being "pro" or "against" the death penalty but rather a film about its moral implications.
As Lindy listens to her fellow jurors, she brings complexity in this debate and she opens the question of our individual and collective responsibility. And although Lindy is still a very conservative person, this experience as a juror has challenged her beliefs and she has had the courage to question them. At a time where our western societies are so divided, where everybody camp on his arguments, I find it remarkable.
Was there anything strange, funny, interesting, sad, scary, or otherwise unusual about making this film?
Being a pretty liberal French person, I was a bit worried about how we would get along with Lindy as we disagree on a lot of things. But the magic of making this film is that we ended up best friends, probably thanks to her incredible sense of humor. Lindy shook up all the preconceived ideas I could have of "rural conservative people from the South" if I may! I have often noticed - and probably even more with European filmmakers - that rural America is very often stereotyped -and usually not in a positive way... It was particularly striking during the Trump campaign where it seemed like only a bunch of idiots were about to vote for him. That's something I absolutely wanted to avoid in this film: instead of caricature, I wanted to find the complexity within these people and I hope that's something we can feel in the film through Lindy and all of the jurors.
On the scary side, while making this film, we had the most unpleasant time at Parchman penitentiary where we shot an interview of Lindy as she visited the death chamber: we had been allowed to film there, under supervision, but on our way out, the prison officials retained us for a few hours and seized the footage. It felt really humiliating at the time and although they promised to give the footage back to us, they never did. Maybe they felt, at the last minute, that showing an execution chamber in all its crudeness was maybe not the best publicity in 2017?
What is your connection to Mississippi? If you don’t have one, why did you choose to enter your film into a Mississippi festival?
I didn't really had a connection to Mississippi until I drove through from Louisiana to Tennessee in 2010 and simply loved the place. While preparing this film, I have spent more time in this state and got a glimpse of its complex and fascinating history.
Being a foreigner, I feel there is a story to be told at every corner and I definitely have an attraction for this place. Obviously, it was really important for me to be able to show this film in the Jackson area, where most of the film was shot and most of the jurors come from. Although I won't be able to come to the festival, I really wish I'd be there and I hope the audience will give a warm welcome to Lindy Lou.