: Documentary Feature
GENRE: Documentary
STATUS: Pre-Production


Nine tells the story of Gerald Hankerson, a Black 53-year old community leader, as he campaigns to get his former cellmate and father-figure out of prison.


Nine tells the story of Gerald Hankerson, a Black 53-year old community leader, as he campaigns to get his former cellmate and father-figure out of prison and fights for the men he left behind. Gerald met Henry Grisby—a man he came to lovingly call “Pops”—in Washington State’s most notorious maximum security prison, where both were serving life sentences for crimes they didn’t commit. Nine is ultimately about the enduring bonds of friendship forged across generations and decades, and the power it gives both men to push back against an overtly oppressive criminal justice system.


Nine is a cinematic, character-driven documentary told through three strands—each with their own unique visual approach. Still verite sequences filmed on a tripod frame Gerald and Waldo as they work around the clock to pass a parole reform bill. They are often framed surrounded by darkness, drawing attention to their David vs. Goliath fight and building a tone in the vein of a political thriller. We will film this story thread anamorphic, with wide shots that emphasize the enormity of the structures they are up against and the designed isolation of the prison, court, and legislative buildings.

We’ll use free-flowing handheld verite sequences for Gerald’s fight to get Henry out of prison. Close-ups draw attention to the emotional connections between Gerald and Henry—the heart of the story—and the weight of history on both men. 

Key moments from the past come to life to inform the present-day footage through stylized recreations. Scenes from Gerald’s youth are filmed in locations reminiscent of his past. These sequences are filmed in 4:3, drawing attention to the ways in which Gerald’s world was small and confined by systemic brutality. Smooth dolly shots move slowly through the hallways of Gerald’s old house and the corridors of the prison like we are in a dream, mimicking the ephemeral tone of memory. Occasionally, the actors break the fourth wall, looking into the camera, and lip-synching lines from Gerald’s interview. In other moments, Gerald and Henry replace the younger actors in the scene, drawing attention to how the ever-present past lives on in each of them. These recreations show the ways that their stories ripple across generations, impacting both the personal as well as the social and political present.

The storylines will be seamlessly edited together along parallel tracks in accordance with three act structure. The result will be a riveting drama more in the style of a feature narrative than a traditional documentary.


Jeremy Levine - Director/Producer

Jeremy S. Levine is a Brooklyn-based director dedicated to telling innovative, intimate, and politically-charged cinematic stories. His work explores race, trauma, and disillusionment and seeks to unearth buried tragedies and work towards reconciliation. An Emmy award-winning filmmaker and two-time Sundance Institute fellow, his work has screened at hundreds of film festivals around the world, streamed on Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu, broadcast nationally in six countries, and been recognized with awards for craft, storytelling, and a commitment to social justice. He directed/co-produced For Ahkeem, a feature film about a black teenage girl fighting to make a better life for herself and her son in North St. Louis. The film had its world premiere at the 2017 Berlinale and has played as an official selection of over 60 film festivals—including Tribeca, Hot Docs, Sheffield, and AFI Docs—where it won 10 awards, including 7 “Best Documentary Awards.” During its limited theatrical run, For Ahkeem was named in the Top 10 Lists by both Entertainment Weekly and People and was included on the “Unforgettables” List by the Cinema Eye Honors, a list that IndieWire wrote “helped to define documentary cinema in 2017.” He lives in Brooklyn, NY and co-founded the Brooklyn Filmmakers Collective, a community of professional filmmakers dedicated to collaboration and mutual support.

Rachael DeCruz - Director/Producer

Rachael DeCruz has extensive experience in both the nonprofit sector and philanthropy, and is deeply committed to racial justice. She is currently the Vice President of Policy at Race Forward, the country’s largest multiracial racial justice nonprofit and is also an author and creative. For the past three and a half years she has been working closely with Gerald Hankerson to write a book about his life. Its release will be timed with the film to maximize promotional opportunities and impact. DeCruz is a published author, with articles in publications such as the Huffington Post, The Stranger, and The Seattle Times. She was also featured in a video series by the Seattle Times in 2016 called Under Our Skin, about structural and institutional racism. DeCruz was the Communications Chair of the Seattle King County NAACP for over five years. In this capacity she helped to elevate the chapter’s media presence, making the Seattle King County NAACP one of the most vocal and respected voices on racial justice in the region. Her communications background has given her a nuanced understanding of how to tell stories about race that challenge the status quo and unveil the role that institutions and systems play in upholding racial inequity. Furthermore, she has over a decade of experience in how to build campaigns to catalyze real change.


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