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‘Conviction’s’ Hilary Swank & Betty Anne Waters: Real Life Tragedy and Heroism

Bringing “Conviction” to the big screen was a years-long challenge for producer and star Hilary Swank, but it paled in comparison to the 18-year ordeal Betty Anne Waters went through to clear her brother’s name.

“Movies aren’t getting greenlit unless you’re a comic book or tell a lot of fart jokes,” Swank said at TheWrap’s Wednesday night screening of the movie,

Swank’s name may be above the title, but it is Waters, who put herself through college and law school to free her brother Kenny from a murder charge, that is the film’s true star. With the help of DNA evidence, Waters ultimately managed to overturn Kenny’s conviction and win a settlement case against the police department that put him in jail.

“She’s my real life hero,” Swank said.

Swank and her co-stars Minnie Driver and Juliette Lewis were joined on stage for a post-film Q&A at the Arclight Sherman Oaks by the true life inspirations for the film, Waters and her best friend and collaborator Abra Rice. It was something of a mutual admiration society.

“They are so funny. They’re like Cheech and Chong without the pot,” Driver, who plays Rice in the film, said.

It was the $12 million drama’s attention to detail and accuracy that drew the highest praise from its two subjects. “The movie is so true to life. Not every scene happened, but every emotion happened,” Waters said.

One thing that she did feel might have been somewhat overstated was the almost saintly way the film depicts her sacrificing her personal life to work on her brother’s behalf.

“I look at my children and they’re healthy and great. I went to all their soccer games, but I just took books with me,” Waters said. “So am I saintly? No.”

Though the movie injects some ambiguity into the story about Kenny’s guilt or innocence before ultimately exonerating him, Waters said she was always convinced her brother was unjustly convicted.

“I never doubted him. He was my best friend since first grade,” Waters said. “I knew he could handle himself in a bar fight, but he was never aggressive.”

“Conviction” ends on a happy night, with Kenny free and ready to resume his life and reconnect with his daughter. In reality, Kenny’s story took a more tragic turn. Just six months after being released from prison he suffered a fatal fall and died from a brain injury.

“It’s sad, but the greatest part is Kenny died free and innocent,” Waters said. “He always said ‘I have the worst luck,’ and he did have really bad luck.”

One major regret for Waters is that Kenny didn’t live long enough to see his own story immortalized as a movie.

“I wish he was here because he would have loved all of this,” Waters said.

Beyond Waters and Rice’s personal virtues, the three actresses on stage relished the opportunity to bring the story to life. Not to mention, the fact that the material provided something all too rare in movies these days — a trio of meaty roles for women.

“This is one of those movies that’s really the reason you want to be a part of cinema,” Lewis, who plays a key witness in the movie, told the audience.