: Transmedia Documentary
GENRE: Documentary
STATUS: Post-Production


CHECKMATE (Formerly Corrupting the Earth)

A documentary project on the geopolitical games of power play between Iran and the West and the innocent people caught in the crossfire.

We tell the stories of everyday people living remarkably average lives... until they are suddenly thrown in an Iranian prison, brutally tortured, and sentenced to death or long-term imprisonment for absurd-sounding charges like “corrupting the earth.” While Iran has hundreds of “prisoners of conscience" in its jails today, we focus on the jailed Iranians who hold U.S. or Canadian citizenship or residency, who have found themselves trapped between East and West in this unique political moment following the closing of a nuclear deal. The Kafka-esque nightmare in which these people find themselves seems to have come out of nowhere.... but it is anything but arbitrary. We expose a pattern, that behind each seemingly senseless injustice is a highly-calculated and deliberate move by the Iranian regime. It's a chilling and deadly game of chess, one rigged from the intelligence through the judiciary, where innocent people are used as pawns, both to control the masses at home and for leverage in political games on an international scale.



The timing could not be more critical to tell these stories. Years of estrangement between Iran and the West are coming to an end, with the historic closing of the nuclear deal and impending lifting of sanctions. Iran stands poised to be welcomed back into the fold of nations and the international community holds crucial leverage. There is great urgency—and great opportunity—to get these prisoners released. But there is also a power struggle behind the scenes: while more moderate factions in Iran’s government are keen to attract international investment and rehabilitate the country’s reputation on the global stage, and have publicly stated that some of these prisoners should be freed, they have come under pressure from conservative hardliners in Iran's power structure, who are against any rapprochement with the West. The prisoners whose stories we tell in CHECKMATE are caught in the crossfire, essentially being held hostage and used for leverage in these complex and intertwined games both domestic and international. As Iran carves out its new place in the world, and the internal rift in the country's fractured power structure widens, the fate of these prisoners hangs precariously in the balance... and more continue to be arrested. Now is the time to shine a light into this dark corner.


CHECKMATE tells the stories of individuals currently imprisoned in Iran and the struggle to bring them home. Character-driven and highly cinematic, the series takes viewers on a dramatic, emotional journey as we follow the family members, friends and activists working tirelessly for justice. These compelling and complex characters--many of them strong, incredible women--are what make viewers keep coming back, for an unfolding story both heartbreaking and touching, full of suspense, unexpected twists, and the highest stakes imaginable: freedom or death.

With your help, CHECKMATE will be not only an unforgettable piece of cinema, and a set of compelling stories that must be told, but a valuable tool for social action. We believe that by telling these stories, telling them now and telling them in this way, we can get to the point where we are not battling to save prisoner after prisoner, but changing the rules of the game entirely.



Jessica Van Garsse - Director / Producer

Director & Producer Jessica Van Garsse is known for tackling social issues through character-driven stories, and getting access where others can’t. Jessica began as a journalist, and for the last decade has created compelling and successful documentary films, web-based content and television--including producing the Oscar-nominated KILLING IN THE NAME which, prior to its broadcast on HBO, played in over 150 U.S. theaters and worldwide as the centerpiece of an outreach campaign. She has filmed all over the world in highly sensitive situations, from madrassas in the Middle East to death row in a supermax prison. Her work has appeared on PBS, HBO, Nat Geo, History, NBC, CBS, ABC, A&E, Time, and others.

Amy Benziger - Producer

Producer Amy Benziger has run successful global advocacy and awareness campaigns for organizations such as The Nature Conservancy, NPR, Tribeca Film Institute, Participant Media and IHRDC. Her work has lead to The Nature Conservancy and NPR securing millions in sponsorship dollars. She recently served as the Managing Director of Lovesocial, a creative communications agency, where she led strategy and execution on the “Unlock Iran” campaign, a global awareness campaign about prisoners of conscience in Iran. "Unlock Iran" was covered by major media outlets from the New York Times to NPR, led to the successful renewal of the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran, and served as the inspiration for CORRUPTING THE EARTH.

Gissou Nia - Producer

Producer Gissou Nia is an Iranian-American with an expertise in international law and passion for human rights issues, whose work in the field has lead to unprecedented access for the team. Beginning her career as a lawyer on war crimes trials in The Hague, Gissou went on to serve as the Deputy Director of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran (ICHRI) and Executive Director of the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center (IHRDC). Gissou frequently publishes and lectures on issues of Iran and human rights.


Corey Wascinski - Director of Photography

Director of Photography Corey Wascinski is an EMMY-awarded and WEBBY-winning cinematographer. Formally trained as a photo/visual journalist, he has spent the last decade telling stories around the world, for outlets such as Time Magazine, National Geographic Channel, Discovery, PBS, Travel Channel, and Sports Illustrated, and for numerous independent productions. From living with vigilante groups on the U.S / Mexico border, to convoying with the military through Fallujah, Corey is dedicated to his work and committed to honest and accurate storytelling. More about Corey and his work may be found at


Connect With The Filmmakers:


The Gotham Film & Media Institute - Fiscal Sponsorship Program 2024
Recipient of the 2015 Made in NY by IFP Entrepreneur Innovation Grant
Recipient of the 2015-2016 Made in NY by IFP Fellowship


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