Calgarian living in New York celebrates success for true crime documentary

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A Calgary woman and first-generation Pakistani Canadian is being recognized for her filmmaking. She directed a documentary on a wrongfully convicted American and has become an advocate for criminal justice reform. Jill Croteau has her story – Dec 31, 2020

Jia Wertz is a filmmaker from Calgary living part-time in New York. She is relishing in her recent success of her documentary profiling a wrongfully convicted American who spent half his life behind bars for a crime he didn’t commit.

Jeffery Deskovic was 16 years old when he was incarcerated in 1990. He was charged with the rape and murder of a fellow classmate. After 16 years in prison, another man confessed the crime and Deskovic was eventually free.  Deskovic is profiled in Wertz’s debut documentary, Conviction.

‘Conviction’ movie poster. Courtesy: Jia Wertz

“I cant imagine what Jeff dealt with, people thinking he committed this brutal crime rape and horrific murder and putting him behind bars for half his life. I cant imagine it at all,” Wertz said.

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Wertz has already earned several “official selection” nods on the film festival circuit and a handful of awards for her work. She’s back in Calgary hoping to screen her film in the new year once the COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.

“That was the sole reason I went into filmmaking, I wanted to spread awareness about wrongful convictions,” Wertz said.

Jia and Jeffrey during filming. Courtesy: Jia Wertz

She left a 20-year career in fashion to pursue filmmaking.

“I love behind behind the camera and my first day on set shooting the documentary, it felt right, this is what I’m meant to do, this is where i should be,” Wertz said.

Behind the scenes during filming. Courtesy: Jia Wertz

Deskovic eventually graduated from law school and created a foundation in his name, advocating for other wrongfully convicted prisoners.

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“I don’t have words for how amazing he is and the perseverance he has,” Wertz said. “He’s got the biggest heart and he will tell you himself that what he went through was horrific but at least he came out with a clear cut mission in life.”

Jia and Jeffrey at Georgia film festival. Courtesy: Jia Wertz

Wertz is already setting her sights on a new project.

“My next film will be about someone currently incarcerated so I can help shed light on their case and give them a voice to tell their side of the story. That’s my ultimate goal,” Wertz said.