A documentary film produced by Reckon and AL.com will be highlighted at the upcoming Sidewalk Film Festival in Birmingham, Ala.
“Pulled Over/Pulled Under,” a 17-minute film directed by Anissa Latham and narrated by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist John Archibald, spotlights Alabama activist Callie Greer and her daughters, who were jailed for not paying traffic fines.
The film also features advocates for working-class people, elected officials and others who paint a picture of how exorbitant fines, fees and other court costs keep people, especially African Americans, in an inescapable cycle of debt and poverty.
The film was completed with support of a grant from the Ira A. Lipman Center for Journalism and Civil and Human Rights at the Columbia Journalism School. The grant also supported Archibald’s investigation into the town of Brookside, Ala., and its police department’s practice of aggressively ticketing motorists, revenues from which accounted for 50 percent of the city budget.
“For me, this project was extremely important and a necessary part of the conversation, especially at the time that news of Brookside was huge in Alabama,” said Latham, who directed the project. “This film represents the impact of egregious law enforcement on real people, and showcases that the problem is much bigger than just Brookside. I’m very grateful to Sidewalk for giving us the ability to showcase this issue to an even larger audience.”
Information from the nonprofit Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, which the film also features, shows that people with spiraling fines and fees sometimes must choose paying traffic-related court debts over other essentials such as rent, food, medicine and hospital bills or transportation costs. Some participate in sex work to pay off fines and fees.
“Excessive fines and fees are an excuse for Alabama to refuse to fund government in a meaningful way,” Archibald said. “They are an anchor chained not just to the people who can’t afford to pay, but to the state itself. These things are bad and lazy policies.”
“Pulled Over/Pulled Under” will debut at Sidewalk on Sunday, August 28 at 4:20 pm. Find more information about the festival and the schedule of films here.