Award-winning Harry Moses and his Latest Documentary – “Guilty Until Proven Guilty”
For more than 50 years Harry Moses has been making documentaries and he has no intention of retiring. Nor should he, given the contribution he has made to that genre. His latest on the criminal justice system in Louisiana, Guilty Until Proven Guilty, funded by the Kellogg Foundation, was named best documentary at the 2018 Los Angeles Documentary Film Festival.
Based on his family history, Moses was destined to be in some form of the entertainment business. “My grandfather was probably the most successful of us,” says Moses, “although he didn’t start out in the entertainment world. He manufactured union suits. But his wife loved the theater and she persuaded him to become a producer and he was very good at it. He produced Grand Hotel and Men in White on Broadway.”
“My father,” Moses continues, “started out as a personal manager and talent agent. Then as a producer he developed “The GE College Bowl” for television and brought Bob & Ray to the small screen. His clients also included Jack Benny, Fred Allen, and Bert Parks.”
An epiphany came to Moses while he was working in Washington DC in the early 1960s and saw a documentary called Crisis Behind a Presidential Commitment. “It was produced by Robert Drew, founder of Cinéma Vérité, and one of the best documentaries ever made,” says Moses. “I was 26 and the film just rocked me and I decided that I wanted to make films like that.”
He honed his skills working at Drew Associates for four years as an associate producer and then went on to spend half of his career at “60 Minutes” where he produced more than 100 stories. “You need to engage the audience immediately and that is only done by having the main character be credible and empathetic,” says Moses. “If that’s not the case, you can’t make the film.”
Curiosity, creativity, determination, and critical acumen—all attributes that a successful documentary maker needs. And Moses has them in spades. They have helped him earn numerous accolades and awards, including Emmy, Peabody, and Directors Guild of America awards as well as a lifetime achievement award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences for his extensive work on “60 Minutes”. And he is bound to collect more awards for the aforementioned Guilty Until Proven Guilty.
I’ve been making films on the subject of race throughout my career,” Moses explains. “Guilty Until Proven Guilty is the first in a series called Race in America. What compelled me to tell this story was a brief interview I did in 2016 with an inmate at the Orleans Parish jail, Tim Conerly, who had been charged with armed robbery and after two-plus years in jail was still waiting for his day in court. Tim’s predicament seemed emblematic of several failings in the criminal justice system that are explored more fully in my documentary. Like every film I’ve made, the intent is to bring understanding to a serious and complicated issue through characters that grip and that hopefully compel the audience to get involved in the issue.” Moses is brilliant at achieving this and his work is a testament to his talent.