Ken Burns examines lives lost, racial bias in ‘Central Park Five’

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The Central Park Five

'The Central Park Five' originally debuted Friday, November 23 2012, in theaters. (Photo/Courtesy of Sundance Selects)

Famed documentary filmmaker Ken Burns calls his latest release The Central Park Five his most “journalistic” project ever.

The film, which opens in limited release in New York Friday, details the story behind the ‘Central Park Jogger’ assault and rape case which nearly left a young woman dead on April 19, 1989. 

The Central Park Five focuses on the five black and Latino teens who were convicted of the crime, served their sentences but were later exonerated after the real rapist came forward in 2002. Burns shares credit on his latest project with his daughter Sarah and her husband filmmaker David McMahon.

“It was tremendous,” Burns told theGrio’s Todd Johnson of working with his daughter and son-in-law. “There was also our editor Michael Lodine and our coordinating producer Stephanie Jenkins. We felt like we became a family working on this project and bonded with the Central Park Five and we feel like we’re the ‘Central Park Ten.’

The five teens, now all in their 30s, are featured heavily throughout the film, (four on camera, one via phone recording) sharing their stories of seemingly normal lives up until the date of the brutal incident. Four of the five teens made videotaped confessions, each implicating one another in bizarre and troubling video which Burns obtained and uses almost hauntingly in the film.

The teens claimed afterwards they were coerced by detectives and police officials — that they were promised their cooperation would lead to their release. (the film notes some of them had been questioned/held up to 30 hours before ‘confessing’)

In September, lawyers for New York City subpoenaed “notes and outtakes from the film” to help their defense efforts against civil suits filed on behalf of the five who were wrongfully accused. Each men is seeking $50 million in damages from the city. (the men served between 6 and 13 years in prison, before their sentences were vacated by a judge in 2002)

Burns wasn’t surprised by the subpoena.

“I think they’ve been delaying the civil suit for so long,” Burns said. “We’ve just become another delaying tactic.”