AFI Docs 2021 | Courtroom 3H Review: A Courtroom Documentary Without a Legal Argument

AFI Docs 2021 | Courtroom 3H Review: A Courtroom Documentary Without a Legal Argument

Read Time:1 Minutes, 45 Seconds

“If one really wants to know how justice is administered in a country, one goes to the unprotected and listens to their testimony”

– James Baldwin

This quote starts off courthouse documentary Courtroom 3H and is a fairly accurate representation of the documentary itself. Antonio Méndez Esparza sets the documentary inside the Dependency Court in Leon County, Florida during 2019, focusing on less than a dozen cases out of the 300+ filmed during the production of the documentary. In three chapters, Esparza’s attempt to shine a light on the court cases of parents who are pleading with their government to get a second chance raising their children, crafting a narrative of just how unprotected parents are once the government gets involved.

Regarding involvement, I feel I should give prospective viewers a heads-up that this isn’t shot like a conventional documentary. Esparza’s Courtroom 3H is a purely observational documentary, much like last year’s City Hall, in that, Esparza sets up a few cameras inside the courtroom and hits record. There are no interviews or anything like this. It takes some getting used to, but not too long, fortunately.

I don’t think Esparza produces clear arguments for why exactly these parents are being taken advantage of by the government or at some disadvantage. Of the few cases that I saw during the documentary, I felt like I only understood the dynamics of one or two of the cases, and even then, I only barely understood those dynamics. I feel like, at times, Esparza wanted me to cry rather than understanding the court proceedings. In stark contrast is the climax. The final act is laser-focused on one case and really feels like a lawyer’s fight against a system stacked against this one parent.

If the entire documentary could live up to the final act, I’d be giving Courtroom 3H a much higher score, but I just don’t think Esparza did enough to portray these parents and their fight against the judicial system in America.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Courtroom 3H does not currently have a release date.

Thanks to Thomas Stoneham-Judge from Movies For ReelShane Conto, Joseph Davis, David Walters, and Ambula Bula for supporting Austin B Media on Patreon!

Until next time!

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