Private Project

The Witmans

In 1998, Zachary Witman, 15, found his brother Greg, 13, brutally stabbed to death in their sleepy suburban New Freedom, Pennsylvania home. Without motive or direct evidence, Zachary was found guilty of the crime and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, sending his parents Ron and Sue on a harrowing 20-year odyssey to free their son from the deeply broken juvenile justice system in America.

  • David Petersen
  • Christopher Collins
  • Lydia Tenaglia
  • Craig H. Shepherd
  • Christopher Collins
    Executive Producers
  • Lydia Tenaglia
    Executive Producers
  • Craig H. Shepherd
    Executive Producers
  • Nikolas Diener
    Executive Producers
  • Leslie Drinkwater
    Executive Producers
  • Shannon Sun-Higginson
    Executive Producers
  • Gregory Timmons
    Executive Producers
  • David Petersen
  • Shawn Cuddy
    Co-Executive Producer
  • Ted Schillinger
    Co-Executive Producer
  • Project Type:
  • Runtime:
    1 hour 27 minutes 29 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    September 3, 2019
  • Production Budget:
    600,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    United States
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
Distribution Information
    Country: United States
    Rights: Free TV, Paid TV
Director Biography - David Petersen

Minnesota-born, Brooklyn-based filmmaker David Petersen focuses his films on people in search of a home. From his earliest experimental work to his recent documentaries and feature films, he has explored stories about people trying to find shelter, a connection, or identity in small communities, often estranged from the outside world. In his documentary work, he has looked at the communities of a diner, remote town, storefront church, or contemporary opera company – places where people find solace in a culture largely indifferent to them. His screenplays and dramatic feature films explore these insular worlds even more intimately, and range from a fictional story about a mentally handicapped man trying to get married, to a true story about two of the most successful bank robbers in America who face a mid-life crisis. His background in both creative writing and documentaries allows him to move between fiction and true stories, tied by a hunger for a sense of place. David Petersen's films have been exhibited at numerous international museums and festivals, including Centre Georges Pompidou, The Museum of Modern Art, The Hirshhorn Museum, National Gallery of Art, and The Library of Congress. Several of his films are in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, National Gallery of Art, and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.


Academy Award Nominee, Best Documentary Short Subject, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. 1990

Crystal Apple Award (Best Of Festival) Gold Apple Award (1st Place in Category), National Educational Film Festival. 1989

Blue Ribbon (1st Place in Category), American Film Festival. 1989

Gold Award (1st Place), Houston International Film Festival. 1989

Special Jurors Award (Top Prize), Aspen Film Festival. 1989

Special Jury Award (Top Prize), VITAS Film Festival. 1989

CINE Golden Eagle Award, 1989

Emmy Award, (Best Editing), National Association of Television Arts and Sciences, 1989


Permanent collection of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. (1990)

Permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY (1989)

Permanent collection of the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. (2004)

Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (2004)

Grants and Fellowships

6 Artist Fellowships: The MacDowell Colony (2014, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2003, 2002,)

3 Artist Fellowships: Yaddo (2011, 2002, 1991)

Artist Fellowship: Mexican Cultural Institute/FONCA (2000)

3 Artist Fellowships: The Blue Mountain Center (1998, 2000, 2011)

7 Artist Fellowships: Virginia Center for the Creative Arts (1990-2002)

4 Fellowship Grants: Morris & Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation (1990-1996)

4 Individual Artist Grants, 1 Technical Assistance Grant: D.C. Commission on the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts (1990-1995)

Major Production Grant: Delaware Humanities Forum (1994)

Mid-Atlantic MediaArts Fellowship, Pittsburgh Filmmakers (1993)

Artist Fellowship: The Ragdale Foundation (1993)

2 Writing Fellowships: Cummington Community of the Arts (1991, 1992)

3 Production Grants: D.C. Community Humanities Council (1984, 1988, 1989)


One Story, 2007 short story “Wedding Pictures”

I Run and Feel Rain – Screenplay Optioned by Miramax Films 1994, Optioned by Hobby Films 2003

Biily and Ray – Screenplay Commissioned and in development Hobby Films 2003

Playwright/Co-Author – commissioned to write Inferno 2001, Broadway performance art group Squonk

Playwright – play commission by LaJolla Playhouse 2000 I Run and Feel Rain for the stage

I Run and Feel Rain, Novel currently in negotiation with Penguin-Putnam Publishers

(Selections — complete list available upon request)

Teen Vogue, June/July 2015 “Miami Heat: Strictly Ballet It’s Back!” Feature story
Birmingham News, Sept 2013 "A More Convenient Season’ Receives Memorable Premiere”

San Francisco Chronicle, Jan 2011 “Behind the Scenes at Birth of an Opera

The New York Times, May 2007 “Seasons of MacDowell” for MoMA premiere

The Washington Post, TV Guide, front page story “Strength and Hope: Filmmaker Documents Storefront Ministry” March 27-April 2, 2005

Variety Magazine, Sundance review Let the Church Say Amen, Jan 27, 2004

Variety Magazine, “Dems Dance at Fundraiser” January 13, 2004

The Washington Post, "Community at the Crossroads" Dec 21, 2002

Washington City Paper, David Petersen "Following the Faithful" Dec 5-12, 2002

Reel Screen, “Capital Tales: Let the Church Say Amen,” July/August 2001

The Washington Post “The Sherrill's Secret,” November 8, 2000

The Washington Post “The Last Helpings of an Era” July 29, 2000

The City Paper, Cover Storyon David Petersen "Darkness Visible" Oct 16-24, 1996

Marquis Who's Who in the World and East 1995-1996 and 1993-1994 Editions

The Washington Post “Petersen’s Local Angle” October 18, 1996

The Washington Post, "A Small Town Gets the Big Picture" May 21, 1995

The Washington Post, "Rosebud Awards Put Spotlight on Local Filmmakers" Apr 8, 1993

Washingtonian Magazine, "The Young and Restless" Profiles ofWashingtonians, Dec 1992

The Washington Post, "Allergic to Hollywood" May 25, 1992

Museum and Arts Magazine, "Real Life on the Reel" 6 Documentary Filmmakers July 1990

Chicago Tribune, "D.C. diner may serve up an Oscar" Mar 14, 1990

The Washington Post, "One Cheeseburger--Hold the Applause" Feb 16, 1990

The Washington Post, "Sherrill's 'Fine Food' Fete" Oct 31, 1988

TV Guide, "Close Up: Sherrill's Bakery" Nov 5-11, 1988

The Washington Times, "PBS film captures spirit of Sherrill's Restaurant" Nov 10, 1988

The Washington Times, "Spotlight on Sherrill's" Aug 2, 1988

The Washington Post, "Lights, Camera, Menus!" Mar 19, 1987

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