Beyond Conviction: Rachel Libert’s Docu about Violence Victims Meeting their Perpetrators

Rachel Libert’s “Beyond Conviction,” a documentary about a Pennsylvania program that allows victims of violent crimes to confront their perpetrators, takes an intelligent, level-headed approach to potentially exploitative subject matter.

Refusing to resort to sensationalism or sentimentality, Libert’s film is equally intense and uplifting.

“Beyond Conviction” avoids the familiar language that often characterizes debates about the efficacy of the justice system, where one side demands an “eye-for-an-eye” while the other says, “forget and forgive.” While forgiveness may be an end result of these encounters between victim and perpetrators, it is not the purpose of the program. Instead, it forces the criminal to accept responsibility for his actions in a system that is more concerned with announcing a verdict than in understanding the motives behind the crime. The program is not about being softer on crime, but about assigning criminals agency rather than simply locking them up and moving on.

Libert doesn’t use a voiceover to underline our emotions or to tell us what we should be feeling; instead letting the three interviews speak for themselves. Although in all three cases the subjects share family ties (whether literal or figurative), in each case, the dynamics of the interaction are unique. As the criminals fumble for the words to narrate their confessions in a way that will soften the blow without flinching from the truth, the victims have to first learn how to process this information and then decide how to respond to these confessions.

Although we may find ourselves doubting the sincerity of some of these criminals or empathizing with others, Libert’s goal is not to take sides but to give everyone involved a voice.

Written by Kate Findley