Dir. Steve James and Peter Gilbert, 2008, 94 min.
At the Death House Door follows the remarkable career journey of Carroll Pickett, who served 15 years as the death house chaplain to the infamous "Walls" prison unit in Huntsville, Texas. During that time he presided over 95 executions, including the very first lethal injection done anywhere in the world. After each execution, Pickett recorded an audiotape account of that fateful day. The film also tells the story of Carlos De Luna, a convict whose execution affected Pickett more than any other. Pickett firmly believed the man was innocent and two Chicago Tribune reporters turn up evidence that strongly suggests he was right.
Steve James is the award-winning director, producer, and co-editor of Hoop Dreams, which won every major critics award as well as a Peabody and Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award in 1995. The film earned James the Directors Guild of America Award and the MTV Movie Award's "Best New Filmmaker." Recently, Hoop Dreams was selected for the Library of Congress' National Film Registry, signifying the film's enduring importance to American film history, and hailed by critic Roger Ebert as "the great American documentary." James' next documentary, Stevie, won major festival awards at Sundance, Amsterdam, Yamagata and Philadelphia, and was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award. The acclaimed feature landed on a dozen "Top Ten Films of the Year" lists for 2003.
James was also an executive producer, story director, and co-editor of the PBS series, The New Americans, which won two Chicago International Television Festival Golden Hugos, and the prestigious 2004 International Documentary Association Award for Best Limited Series for Television. In 2005, James completed the documentary, Reel Paradise, his fourth film to premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. James served as producer and editor of The War Tapes, a documentary comprised of video footage shot by American soldiers in Iraq. The film won the top prize at both the 2006 Tribeca Film Festival, and the inaugural 2006 BritDoc Film Festival.
In 2008, he co-produced and co-directed with Peter Gilbert the acclaimed At the Death House Door, which won the top prize at the Atlanta Film Festival, the Inspiration Award at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, and aired on IFC-TV. At the Death House Door is James' fourth film to be officially short-listed for the Academy Award. James' 2010 documentary No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson had its world premiere at the SXSW Film Festival and aired as part of ESPN Films' 2010 International Documentary Association award-winning series 30 for 30. The film was selected for the IDOCS International Documentary Forum in Beijing, and also played at the Cleveland, Full Frame, Dallas, Nashville and Atlanta film festivals, among others, as well as earning James the Best Director award at the Midwest Film Awards.
This year James will release his sixth film in partnership with Kartemquin Films, The Interrupters. Marking a return to some of the same Chicago neighborhoods featured in Hoop Dreams, The Interrupters investigates the stubborn persistence of violence in American cities. James co-produced the film with acclaimed writer Alex Kotlowitz (There Are No Children Here). The film is his fifth feature to be selected for the Sundance Film Festival, and after premiering theatrically this summer, will be broadcast on PBS FRONTLINE in late 2012.
James' dramatic films include the theatrical feature Prefontaine (1997), which premiered at Sundance, and cable movies Passing Glory (1999) and Joe and Max (2002), which was nominated for an ESPN Espy Award.