Accused murderer Juan Calderon rocked in his chair as a tear rolling from his left eye disappeared in his mustache, then curled around his strained upper lip as he focused what energy he had on crying silently. His 6-year-old daughter answered his defense Attorney’s questions from the witness stand with Calderon’s incarceration hanging in the balance.
This is one of the more striking images in “Long Shot”, a 40-minute documentary telling Calderon’s story about how he proved he was at a dodger game long enough for it to be impossible for him to have committed the murder of Maria Puebla, which occurred in Sun Valley about 20 minutes after the game ended. However, the larger examination is of the Criminal Justice System and the supposed “proof” of guilt or innocence which determines the fate of people accused like Calderon.
When initially interrogated by police, Calderon could not remember where he was on May 12, 2003, the day of the murder.
“They told me that I murdered a 16-year-old girl, the date was irrelevant to me at that point,” Calderon explains in the film.
“Long Shot” is compelling in its examination, but the courtroom scene featuring the daughter of the accused is one of the few emotionally captivating moments in the short film. Surely, the facts in such a dramatic case take precedence over entertainment value, but the problem is that the film does not succeed in its attempt to capture the profound distress Calderon was put through by the LAPD and court system. Though the characters are highly relevant, viewers see them almost exclusively in front of a blue background telling their story in interview format, meaning the film is no more effective than it would be as a podcast.
Visual Editor Matt Cascella includes some timeline work early in the film, flashing back between the May 12 Dodger game Calderon attended and the scenes from the murder he was accused of, but the purpose of this is as unclear as its effect. Perhaps that is why the tactic is abandoned halfway through the documentary, making the timeline elements essentially a floating story line.
Calderon’s story, however, is intense and pertinent. With such a short run time, the film is well worth the watch for the statements it makes about the justice system. This is most clear when Judge Leslie Dunn describes a fundamental part of her deliberation on the case after taking the interrogation tapes between detectives and Calderon to her residence.
“I made my children listen to the tapes and I kept asking them as I was really asking myself, ‘is this the voice of a guilty man,’” she explains.
In a justice system where people are innocent till proven guilty, few think that the subjective opinions of a judge’s children can serve as proof of guilt. While it is true that Calderon was eventually acquitted, “Long Shot” makes clear how close he was to being incarcerated for the rest of his life for a crime he did not commit, forcing viewers to wonder how many have suffered that fate. This message is not original, but “Long Shot” plays an important role in preserving societal memory of that fact. A more visual form of narrative would make that statement even stronger.
“Long Shot” is worth the watch, but does not achieve its full potential. The documentary is available on Netflix, though Calderon, a lifetime Dodger fan, might prefer if you wait until after the game to watch it.