By now, the basic narrative of the Michael Morton story is well known. A Texas man serves nearly 25 years in prison for his wife’s murder, only to be set free after DNA tests exonerate him.
But to know the facts is different from feeling their emotional weight. In An Unreal Dream: The Michael Morton Story, now available on DVD, director Al Reinert takes viewers on a gut-wrenching journey through the case, from the 1986 crime scene to courtrooms and prison cells and, finally, to the moment in 2011 when Morton exited the Williamson County Courthouse a free man. Along the way, we hear from Morton what it felt like to be labeled a monster, to lose his freedom and his son, and to find no relief in the justice system for years until a team of dedicated attorneys came to his aid.
Although the story ends in punishment for the district attorney who tried Morton’s case, the focus here is not revenge. Morton’s pursuit of justice is tempered with mercy, as shown when he urges a judge to “be gentle” with Ken Anderson, the former prosecutor who served five days in jail and surrendered his law license after pleading guilty in November to criminal contempt for withholding exculpatory evidence during Morton’s 1987 trial. Grace, as the Austin American-Statesman noted in its review, is the film’s guiding energy.
An Unreal Dream premiered at the 2013 South by Southwest Film Festival, winning the Audience Award in the Documentary Spotlight category, and was featured on CNN in December. It is now available to stream or download on iTunes, or on DVD from Amazon and First Run Features.
DVD extras include highlights from Anderson’s court of inquiry and plea deal hearings, footage from the SXSW premiere, and an audience Q&A from the Houston Cinema Arts Festival featuring Morton, Reinert, and Houston attorney John Raley, who worked pro bono with the New York-based Innocence Project to free Morton.
“Stories are what matter in human communication,” Reinert says during the Q&A. “And this was always and continues to be a great human story.”