Crown Heights tells the true story of Colin Warner and the road he underwent to get his freedom after being wrongfully convicted of murder.
Written and directed by Matt Ruskin, the biopic stars Lakeith Stanfield, Nnamdi Asomugha, Natalie Paul, Amari Cheatom, Marsha Stephanie Blake, Nestor Carbonell, Zach Grenier, Josh Pais, Yul Vazquez, Ron Canada, with Bill Camp.
It’s 1980 when Marvin Grant gets gunned down in Flatbush, Brooklyn. The only witness that the police are able to find is Clarence Lewis and after hours of looking through photos of potential suspects, he ID’s Colin Warner (Stanfield) as the shooter. There’s just one problem with this: Clarence Lewis (Skylan Brooks) didn’t see the shooting. The real shooter, Anthony Gibson (Forbes), even admits that he acted alone.
Only 18 years old, Colin gets sentenced to life in prison with a minimum 15 years to be served. He knows he’s innocent and his friend Carl “KC” King devotes the next 20-plus years to getting Colin out of prison. It’s not an easy road but Colin does what he can to raise money for the appeals, pay lawyer fees, and even becomes a process server, where he works with a Brooklyn lawyer, William Robedee (Camp). With his wife, Shirley (Sarah Goldberg), William and Carl are able to track down witnesses and others who were there so that they could file another appeal to the New York State Supreme Court.
The time lapses come by way of clips from political speeches by former political officials and other important moments in American history.
“I first heard Colin’s story on the radio show This American Life,” says Matt Ruskin, writer/director of Crown Heights. “Anya Bourg (a producer at 60 Minutes) traced the course of events that unjustly sent Colin to prison. It was a story I couldn’t get out of my head. Colin not only survived unimaginable injustice, but emerged from two decades of incarceration with his humanity and his dignity intact. Carl ‘KC’ King refused to accept a world in which an innocent man could die in prison, and so he devoted his life to fighting for Colin’s freedom. There are critical social issues ingrained in this film, but at its core this is an inspiring story about love, integrity and the resilience of the human spirit.”
Ruskin does his research for Crown Heights. With him, you get a filmmaker that’s going to get the job done right with a countless number of hours spent interviewing that you’d think he was going to write a book on it! Still, one can’t help but feel for Colin Warner and just how much of his life was spent sitting in prison when he should have been a free man. Anthony Gibson only served nine years in prison when he was the shooter. This film shows just how much work is still needed for the justice system.
Premiering at Sundance where the film won the Audience Award for U.S. Dramatic Film, Amazon Studios and IFC Films opened Crown Heights on August 18, 2017. It will open at AMC River East 21, Kerasotes ShowPlace ICON, AMC Crestwood 18 and Cinemark Century Evanston in Chicago on September 1, 2017.