Rudy Valdez Interview: ‘The Sentence’ director
“I wasn’t a filmmaker when I started making this. I didn’t even know what I was doing at the beginning,” reveals Rudy Valdez about his HBO documentary, “The Sentence,” which is nominated at this year’s Emmys for Exceptional Merit in Documentary Filmmaking. He began filming his nieces after his sister, Cindy Shank, was sent to prison so that she could see moments that she was missing from their lives.
In our recent webchat (watch the exclusive video above), he says there was one specific instance that made him realize that he needed to make this into something bigger than just something for his sister. He adds, “I happened to be home for her oldest daughter, Autumn’s, first dance recital. Completely organically as Autumn was getting ready my sister calls and she says to Autumn, ‘Do you know what mommy’s going to do when you go to dance? I’m going to go to my bed, close my eyes and think about you.’” Valdez knew then that he had to figure out a way to tell this story, not just for his sister but for all the families that are in similar situations.
“The Sentence” examines the circumstances that lead to Shank being incarcerated in 2007 and the toll it took on her family. Years before she had been in a relationship with a drug dealer. When he was murdered, prosecutors initially didn’t charge her with anything. Shank rebuilt her life and went on to get married and have three beautiful daughters. Several years later she was arrested for not telling the police about her ex-boyfriend’s illegal activities and sentenced to 15 years in prison due to the mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines.
Valdez is happy to report that not only is Shank out of prison and back with her daughters, but that she’s really excelling at her life after being released. “She got a job almost immediately after coming home and has been promoted, I think, five times at her job. She’s spending a lot of time with her daughters. She doesn’t like to say that she’s making up for lost time but she’s creating new memories and traditions and a new future.”
The recognition from the TV Academy has been very surreal for Valdez, but what really stands out for him is what this film was able to do on a larger level. “I started this film because I wanted to give my sister a voice. For so long I felt like I didn’t have a voice and it’s about owning your voice.” He elaborates that the film is the embodiment of everything that he worked for to giving a voice for others. He adds, “It was about empowering myself, my sister and my family.”