FILM REVIEW: LAW AND SHORTER (TORONTO TRUE CRIME FILM FESTIVAL)
The second annual Toronto True Crime Film Festival came to a close last weekend. After last years break out debut full of interesting documentaries such as the fascinating yet equally horrifying ABDUCTED IN PLAIN SIGHT, this year the film festival had some equally interesting offerings.
We are all completely fascinated with true crime; we suck up every gruesome detail- but what happens when all is said and done? Rarely do we get to see the court hearings after the facts. This seems to be the main angle that this year’s festival program is going for. Its shorts block- LAW AND SHORTER- reflects this as we get four films about the aftermath of crime and the justice system.
Directed by Nina Marissiaux, this French language, Belgian film involves a trial in Belgium that gives us a rare inside look at the European court system.
A victim of a most heinous crime- the vicious, violent murder of his wife and three children-gives his testimony in front of a judge. The film is made up if this heart-wrenching footage from the courtroom and informal interviews from five members of the public watching the trial take place.
ADJOURNMENT is quite well made, with its lingering shots of the beautiful interior of the courtroom and somber music to match. The film is also just really human and relatable as well. It poses a self-aware question to its audience; to seasoned true crime buffs and curious first-timers alike. Seeing the onlookers claim “I get a certain buzz……a guilty pleasure” makes us look into ourselves and see the parallels. It turns out morbid curiosity is part of the human condition, but should we feel guilty about it?
Gruesome details of the crime and footage of the victim breaking down in the witness booth keep us devastatingly hooked on the screen. The interviews are shot as informal conversations. The onlookers sitting outside the courtroom and talking with each other in a casual way the invites the viewer to relate. ADJOURNMENT makes masterful use of the sunny weather and impressive architecture to further the eerie juxtaposition of its content and style.
“ADJOURNMENT is just really human and relatable as well.”
3.5 Tombstones out of 5…
KATIE AND THE BLACK ROBIN HOOD
KATIE AND THE BLACK ROBIN HOOD is a film by Alessandra Giordano and John Ritchie. It follows public defender Katie Carter, who focuses on using film to show the human side of her clients to judges and prosecutors.
The viewer rides along with Katie as she films the story of bank robber Christopher Simms. While Simms freely admits to his crimes, he is also the victim of a traumatic upbringing and a corrupt juvenile prison system. Through her empathetic lens, we are forced to think about the classism that affects the lives of so many in the United States.
The documentary is well made, the editing is tight and makes sure that only the most poignant of dialogue hits us. Every line in the film does an important job of making us really think about the issues the film tackles, such as institutionalization, abuse of children in prisons, whistle-blowing, and prejudice.
KATIE AND THE BLACK ROBIN HOOD is a peek inside the sentencing process from both sides, fans of the well-known podcast SERIAL – especially season 3- will find this short film stimulating. Not only is Christopher interviewed but so are various lawyers, judges, and journalists. This shake-up of interviewees keeps the film fresh.
Sympathetic perpetrators of non-violent crimes is not an unheard-of topic in true crime. KATIE AND THE BLACK ROBIN HOOD fits nicely into the overall ‘post-crime’ theme of the shorts block. In the end, it is 20 minutes of your life that you will be happy to have parted with.
“the editing is tight and makes sure only the most poignant of dialogue hits us”
2.5 Tombstones out of 5…
MR. WASH tells the story of Fulton Washington, who was wrongfully convicted of drug offenses and sentenced to life in prison. In 2016, Twenty-one years into his sentence, Mr. Washington was pardoned of his alleged crimes by the president and released
If you appreciate the irony of the justice system being the ones committing the injustices you might enjoy this. MR. WASH is uplifting as we watch Mr. Washington gain his freedom and his family back. While in prison he became an accomplished painter and as he shares his art with the world he shares his message that comes with it.
MR. WASH is more of a story of hope and a life after prison, but it feels out of place among the rest of the festival’s programming. A straightforward documentary style film, it is sleek yet full of personality. The composition of each shot is meticulous but for me, it brought nothing new to the genre. As an uplifting and triumphant tale of overcoming the odds against you, the film is an emotional and technical success. However, from a true crime perspective, it is not compelling in the least.
“MR.WASH is sleek yet full of personality”
2 Tombstones out of 5…
SWATTED, directed by Ismaël Joffroy Chandoutis is another European crime film in the film festival shorts block and is the best of the bunch. Revealing a crime to us that most people haven’t heard of and thus capturing our attention.
If like me, you aren’t an avid gamer, you may not be aware of the startling phenomenon of Swatting- the act if phoning the police on a gamer while they live-stream their gaming online and watching them get tackled to the floor and arrested. Honestly, it is kind of incredulous that this prank even exists, it all seems quite senseless, which I guess is the reason it is so shocking.
I really liked the artistic direction this film went for, choosing animation over face to face interviews. We get wireframe images from a video game- like blueprints of houses and streets-while the stories of swatting victims ring in our ears. Aesthetically, SWATTED reminded me of the film A SCANNER DARKLY and had the same dreamlike quality. The graphics look great (although we aren’t going for realism here) and the film has a very melancholic feel to it as we stare at deserted buildings in the night while we listen to the dialogue.
Speaking of the dialogue in the film, it reveals how damaging this form of cyber harassment is. It’s hard not to feel horrified as we hear the testimonies of victims and watch clips of the swatting happening. The most chilling part of the narration in SWATTED is recordings of the 911 calls made by the pranksters, detailing the fake crimes that were supposedly happening. This insight into the sick imaginations these people have and the lack of remorse they show is akin to hearing a serial killer speak.
“The graphics look great….and the film has a very melancholic feel to it”
4 Tombstones out of 5…