Past Event

Civic Cinema: At the Death House Door

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Join us for a screening of Kartemquin Films’ latest documentary, At the Death House Door, which looks at the death penalty in Texas through the eyes of prison chaplain Carroll Pickett. After the screening, there will be a discussion featuring Pickett, Chicago Tribune reporter Steve Mills, filmmakers Steve James and Peter Gilbert, Ed Yohnka of the ACLU of Illinois, and Rob Warden, director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law.

This event is free and open to the public. Reservations are closed.

At the Death House Door tells the story of Carroll Pickett, who served 15 years as the death house chaplain to the infamous “Walls” prison unit in Huntsville, Texasand presided over 95 executions, including the world’s first lethal injection. The film particularly focuses on how Pickett was affected by Carlos De Luna, one of the inmates he counseled and who is now widely-regarded as wrongfully convicted—based on evidence uncovered by Chicago Tribune reporters Steve Mills and Maurice Possley. It is a film about of the failures of the criminal justice system; about one man’s spiritual and moral journey; and how this very final act of punishment does not bring closure. It was co-directed and co-produced by Steve James and Peter Gilbert. It runs approximately 94 minutes. For more information on the film, visit the Kartemquin Films website.


Reverend Carroll Pickett spent fifteen years as the “death house” chaplain at "The Walls," the Huntsville unit of the Texas prison system. In that capacity, he ministered to 95 men before they were put to death by lethal injection. Rev. Pickett is the author of the acclaimed memoir, Within These Walls, an eloquent, unflinching look at his unique career and his intensely personal exposure to capital punishment. This firsthand experience gave him unique insight to write an impassioned statement on the realities of capital punishment in America. The book is a thought-provoking and compelling look inside the criminal mind, inside the execution chamber, and inside the heart of a remarkable man who shares his thoughts and observations not only about capital punishment, but about the dark world of prison society. Rev. Pickett is today an outspoken anti-death penalty activist. He is retired from the Department of Corrections but still preaches near Huntsville, Texas.

Peter Gilbert is one of the filmmakers who made Hoop Dreams, serving as a producer and DP. He produced and directed With All Deliberate Speed (2004),which was nominated for a Prime Time Emmy for Distinguished Work in Non- Fiction Film. Gilbert executive produced the Sundance Festival Grand Jury and Audience award winning film, The Gods Tired of Us (2005) and the award winning, Emmy nominated, Deadline (2004). Earlier work includes the Emmy Award winning Kartemquin Films documentary Vietnam: Long Time Coming (1998) for which he won the DGA Award for Best Directing; Stevie (2003), as co-DP and co-producer; Married in America (2002), as DP; and Barbara Kopple’s Academy Award winning, American Dream (1991), as DP.

Steve James is best known as the director, producer, and co-editor of Hoop Dreams (1994), which won every major documentary award and a Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award and earned James the DGA Directing Award. James also served as an executive producer, a story director, and series editor of Kartemquin Films’ The New Americans, which won the 2004 IDA Award for Best Limited Series. He also has directed and produced other award-winning films, including Stevie (2003), which won numerous festivals and was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award; and Reel Paradise (2005), which premiered at Sundance. He also produced and edited THE WAR TAPES (2006), which won the grand prizes at the Tribeca Film Festival and BritDoc.

Steve Mills joined the Chicago Tribune as a reporter in 1994. For the past nine years, he has written about the death penalty, miscarriages of justice and other issues in the criminal justice system. With Tribune Staff Writer Ken Armstrong, he reported and wrote the series “The Failure of the Death Penalty in Illinois’’ and “State of Execution: The Death Penalty in Texas.’’ Mills, Armstrong, and reporter Maurice Possley reported and wrote the investigative series, "Executions in America" and "Cops and Confessions," which examined how police obtain dubious confessions. Together Mills and Possley wrote the series, "The Legacy of Wrongful Convictions" and "Forensics Under the Microscope" with Flynn McRoberts, which focused on forensic science and crime labs. Mills and Possley also investigated the case of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed in Texas for the arson murders of his three young daughters, finding that Willingham was convicted and executed based on forensic evidence that had been disproved years earlier and Willingham may have been innocent. “Shielded from the Truth,” which investigated police shootings and how they are reviewed by Chicago police officials, was published in December 2007.

Rob Warden (moderator), Executive Director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions, is an award-winning legal affairs journalist who, as former editor and publisher of Chicago Lawyer magazine during the 1980s, exposed more than a score of wrongful convictions in Illinois, including the cases in which six innocent men had been sentenced to death. Before founding Chicago Lawyer, Warden had been an investigative reporter, foreign correspondent, and editor at the Chicago Daily News. Warden is the author of co-author of hundreds of articles and five books, including two books about wrongful convictions written in collaboration with Northwestern University Journalism Professor David Protess: A Promise of Justice (Hyperion, 1998) and Gone in the Night (Delacorte, 1993). Warden has won more than fifty journalism awards, including the Medill School of Journalism’s John Bartlow Martin Award for Public Interest Magazine Journalism, two American Civil Liberties Union James McGuire Awards, five Peter Lisagor Awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, and the Norval Morris Award from the Illinois Academy of Criminology.

Edwin C. Yohnka is the Director of Communications and Public Policy for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois. On behalf of the ACLU of Illinois, Yohnka appears regularly on television and radio programs in Illinois and throughout the nation to speak out on a myriad of issues, ranging from racial profiling and the inequities of the criminal justice system to matters relating to religious liberty and Internet privacy. In addition, Yohnka edits The Illinois Brief, the organization’s flagship publication printed and mailed quarterly to each member, as well as libraries, schools and other interested parties.

This program is co-sponsored by Kartemquin Films, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Illinois, the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law, the Chicago Tribune Foundation, and The Public Square at the Illinois Humanities Council.

This event is part of The Public Square at the IHC‘s Civic Cinema program, a series of films, forums, and conversations that uses the most exceptionally creative and engaging documentary films of our times as a springboard for talking about some of the most pressing and challenging social issues facing us.

This event is free and open to the public. Reservations are closed. For more information call 312.422.5580.