Netflix recently produced a six-part documentary series in collaboration with the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism’s Investigative Reporting Program, or IRP.
The series, titled “The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez,” is based on work done by producer Garrett Therolf, a reporter at IRP. Therolf previously worked for the Los Angeles Times for 10 years, where he reported on Los Angeles County’s foster care system and other safety nets, according to his LinkedIn page. The docuseries concerns the death of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez, who was abused by his mother and her boyfriend.
Director Brian Knappenberger said he became aware of Therolf’s work, but was unsure if creating the docuseries was the right project for him prior to visiting the courtroom while Fernandez’s mother and her boyfriend were on trial.
“We were allowed to go into the courtroom with cameras,” Knappenberger said. “Once we were in there, we heard those really stirring testimonies from first responders.”
Knappenberger noted that the stories of Fernandez’s caseworkers complicated the case and said it became clear that the story was complex enough to take a deeper look at Los Angeles County.
The series was supported by Netflix after Knappenberger reached out to the company to show it the story and became an “intimate collaboration” with IRP, according to Knappenberger.
Knappenberger added that the response to the series was overwhelming.
“We weren’t sure how people were going to react to this — it’s a really hard thing to watch,” Knappenberger said. “People reached out to us.”
Knappenberger said every person on the production team received emails from viewers who shared their own stories.
The production of the documentary took two years, according to Knappenberger.
“I don’t think anything’s ever been done like this with LA County and looking into childhood welfare,” Knappenberger said. “We wanted to bring out what was important and I think we did.”