The documentary “I Am Evidence” looked at how cities handled testing rape kits that sat shelved for years, and Cleveland played a part.
The filmmakers compared different cities’ approaches and resources, and they found Cleveland ahead of some others, particularly with the work of Cuyahoga County's Sexual Assault Kit Task Force.
“They tested over 4,000 kits. The results were very impressive on the number of convictions,” said co-director and producer Trish Adlesic.
In Detroit, however, the prosecutor did not have the same support for processing the backlog of kits.
The documentary pairs procedural facts with the personal stories of women whose kits went untested for years.
“When someone is impacted by this, a survivor, it has a ripple effect [on] their family [and] into their community,” co-director Geeta Gandbhir said.
Producer and actor Mariska Hargitay also added her star power to the film both on and off screen. Hargitay advocates for the victims of sex crimes as Lieutenant Olivia Benson on the long-running TV show, “Law & Order: SVU,” and she doesn’t step far out of character producing this documentary.
Hargitay and Adelsic worked together on “Law & Order: SVU,” when Adelsic was a location manager.
“I think we really needed to do the in-depth story and really speak to the survivor experience in a real way, not in fiction but in real life,” Adelsic said.
The film’s title comes from one of the women featured in the film. When Adelsic interviewed her for the documentary, she was wearing a T-shirt that read: I Am Evidence.
“What was so profound was… yes, the body is a living, breathing crime scene,” she said. “The other messaging was that: ‘You can heal, you can grow, you don’t have to be your circumstance [and] you can get to another place.”
The message stuck.
“When I was done with the interview I immediately contacted Mariska and said, ‘I think we have our title.’” Adelsic said.
“I Am Evidence” plays at the Cleveland International Film Festival Saturday at 7:40 p.m. and Sunday at 12:30 p.m. It also premieres on HBO on April 16.