The Witmans (2020 – dir. David Peterson): Philadelphia Film Festival review

Photos of Greg Witman

The Witman family has gone through a tragedy so unimaginable that it couldn’t possibly be written into fiction. In the late ’90s, their son Gregory was brutally murdered in their home. Shortly thereafter, their other son, Zach, was convicted for the crime and sentenced to life behind bars, despite being only 15 years old. In the years since Zach’s incarceration, the Witmans have maintained that their son is innocent, and have devoted their lives to helping him regain his freedom. If they can pull it off, and save their son from a system designed to close cases rather than solve them, maybe they can begin to mourn the loss of their other son whom no litigation can bring back.

The documentary gives us a pretty thorough background into the events of the case, including a parade of talking heads to interpret the details and posit their own theories as to what went down during Gregory’s murder. While the material itself seems ambiguous to me — I cannot decide whether or not Zach is guilty — the second half of the film takes the position that he was indeed wrongfully convicted, focusing on his parents during their mission to bring him home, while also studying the changes upon said home brought on by such terrible circumstances.

Beginning to end, The Witmans is a fascinating film, arranged for maximum engagement. It’s a bit frustrating that the details of the case were not shown in more detail, as I’d have loved to see a movie that really digs into the crime itself rather than the fallout, but I can’t come down too hard on a movie for not being a different movie entirely. As it is, the viewer just has to assume Zach’s innocence (not that hard to do – the case against him is not very strong) and go along with the film’s chosen story. I won’t say how it ends, although you could find it in the news if you were so inclined, but I will say this: We should all be so lucky to have parents this devoted.

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