: Documentary Feature
GENRE: Documentary
STATUS: Production


After being sent to prison at 18 for the rest of his life, Gerald Hankerson met Henry Grisby who raised him into the man he is today. Using the lessons Henry taught him, Gerald made history by organizing his way out of prison. Now, Gerald is on a mission to bring his 83-year old “Pops” home while there is still time.


Nine is a feature documentary about the moving relationship between Gerald Hankerson, a Black 54-year old community leader in Seattle, and his father figure Henry Grisby. Their bond, forged across generations and decades, gives both men the power to push back against an oppressive criminal justice system. Gerald was 18 years old and 135 pounds when he was sent to prison with a life sentence. It was there that he met Henry Grisby who took him under his wing, taught him how to survive, how to organize, how to find his power. Gerald had been looking for a father figure his entire life and took these lessons to heart. After two decades behind bars, Gerald managed to organize his way out of prison, becoming the first person in Washington State with a life sentence without parole to be walking free. Now, Gerald is on a mission to bring his “Pops” home and to change an unjust carceral system that has robbed the lives of so many Black men and women across the country.


Nine is a cinematic, feature documentary filmed with a strict formal approach. We are filming the present anamorphic, with wide shots that emphasize the enormity of the structures Gerald and Henry are up against and the designed isolation of the prison, court, and legislative buildings.

Still verite sequences filmed on a tripod frame Gerald and his friends as they fight for the men they left behind. 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.

The film embraces negative space and shadows, building rich skin tones, and revealing details within the darkness. We patiently sit on frames, letting our participants block their own actions and even leave and re-enter the frame. We push in incrementally on these composed frames, drawing us, the viewer, into the scene with Gerald, highlighting the emotional intensity of the moment. 

During Gerald’s public addresses, the camera frames the back of his head, harkening back to iconic imagery of the Civil Rights era and building on the lineage of Primary. 

As Gerald fights for the release of his father figure, he is often blocked within the frame, entrapped by larger systemic forces. We break out of these still wide shots when Gerald and Henry are together. There, 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. When Henry is released, the camera will be released from its constraints and allowed to flow with the men as they explore the world outside together.

Key moments from the past come to life to inform the present-day footage through stylized memories. 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 boxed in 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 stylized memories show the ways that their stories ripple across generations, impacting both the personal as well as the social and political present. 

We will return continuously to visual motifs like fire, symbolizing reflection and rebirth—as Gerald directly confronts the trauma of his past and seeks to reclaim ownership over the moments that have defined his life. We also return to imagery of tunnels as journeys between light and darkness, freedom and constraint. 

The three narrative strands—Gerald’s backstory, his campaign to free Henry, and his fight against a broken system—will be seamlessly edited together along parallel tracks. The result will be a riveting drama on the enduring fight for justice.


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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