Crime Film Documentaries

Instructor: James R. Elkins


Course Films


"Murder on a Sunday Morning" (2001)

[1 hr. 51 min.] [film by Jean-Xavier de Lestrade]

 

"This documentary won a 2001 Academy Award for its compelling account of a reopened murder case that involved a potentially incorrect suspect and shocking tales of police corruption. Brenton Butler, a 15-year-old African-American accused of murdering a woman in Florida, was condemned by everyone involved with the case. But Butler's lawyer eventually reopened the investigation and found some crucial evidence to support his client's innocence." ~ Netflix

Wikipedia

Brenton Butler Case

Rotten Tomatoes

Resources for Film Discussion


"Brother's Keeper" (1992)

[1 hr. 45 mins.] [Film by Joe Berlinger & Bruce Sinofsky]

 

"This acclaimed documentary explores the odd world of the four elderly Ward brothers—illiterate farmers who have lived their entire lives in a dilapidated two-room shack. When William Ward dies in the bed he shared with his brother Delbert, the police become suspicious. Citing motives ranging from sex crime to euthanasia, they arrest Delbert for murder, penetrating the isolated world that left 'the boys' forgotten eccentrics for many years." ~ Netflix

Wikipedia

Rotten Tomatoes

Resources for Film Discussion

"The first feature-length effort by documentary filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, Brother's Keeper unfolds a strange-but-true story about a most unorthodox family. 59-year-old Delbert Ward lives with his brothers Bill, Roscoe, and Lyman on a dairy farm near the upstate New York village of Munnville. Barely able to function on an adult level, the Ward brothers keep to themselves, ignored and shunned by their neighbors. When older brother Bill dies on June 5, 1990, the authorities determine that his death was not from natural causes. Suspected of a mercy killing, Delbert is charged with second degree murder. It gradually becomes apparent that the police coerced Delbert into signing a confession, whereupon his neighbors, who previously wanted nothing whatsoever to do with the man, begin lobbying passionately for his release. It's not that they believe that he's innocent, it's simply that he is one of 'theirs.' Berlinger and Sinofsky firmly refuse to sugarcoat their subject; their glimpses of the Mann brothers and their bizarre lifestyle might be unsettling to some. In addition to its other accomplishments, Brother's Keeper also demonstrates in a non-judgmental fashion how the media can manipulate public opinion, both positively and adversely." ~ Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide

"An Unreal Dream: The Michael Morton Story"

[2013] [film by Al Reinert] [90 mins.]

"The prospect of unjust imprisonment is a plight both easily imagined and terrifying, and we all wonder how we might fare in such a grim circumstance. No case in modern America illuminates this condition more completely than the story of Michael Morton. In 1986 his young wife Christine was brutally murdered in front of their only child, and he was accused and convicted of the crime, spending a quarter of a century in Texas prisons. Michael's son Eric, only three at the time of his mother's death, was raised by family members and eventually cut off all contact with the father he believed had killed his mother.

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New York's Innocence Project, in partnership with John Raley, a Texas attorney working on his first ever criminal case, spent years fighting for DNA testing and investigating possible prosecutorial misconduct in Morton's case. Twenty-five years after the murder, DNA analysis of a bloody blue bandana found near the crime scene not only cleared Morton, but yielded a hit on a known felon who has since been charged with the murder of Christine Morton, along with the murder of another young woman two years later." ~"An Unreal Dream: The Michael Morton Story" {film website}

Resources for Film Discussion

 


"The Thin Blue Line" (1988)

[1 hr. 43 mins.] [film by Errol Morris]

 

"Errol Morris's gripping investigation into the murder of a Dallas police officer was responsible for freeing the man originally—and erroneously—charged with and convicted of the crime. Through archival footage, interviews and stylized reenactments, Morris skillfully makes a case for the innocence of a man who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Widely acclaimed, this breakthrough documentary captured numerous awards." ~ Netflix

Wikipedia

 


 


Resources for Film Discussion

 

"Paradise Lost: Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills" (1996)

[2 hrs. 30 mins.] [film by Joe Berlinger & Bruce Sinofsky]

 

The West Memphis Three--Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, Jessie Misskelley--were arrested in 1993, convicted of murder of three young boys, and were released from prison in August, 2011 after entering Alford pleas.

"Shedding light on the legal system—and on the media machine that often demonizes the accused—this gripping documentary follows the notorious West Memphis Three, a trio of boys arrested for the murders of three children found in a creek bed. Appearing on many critics' year-end Top 10 lists for 1996, this film from directors Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky also won the National Board of Review's prestigious prize for Best Documentary." ~ Netflix

Wikipedia

Resources for Film Discussion

Resources for Film Discussion: Pt2

 

"West of Memphis" (2012) [Possible Alternative to "Paradise Lost"]

[2 hrs. 7 mins.] [Amy Berg director] [Damien Echols & Lorri Davis producers]

 

"After the 1994 conviction of three troubled teens for the murders of three younger boys, questions began to arise about the prosecution of the case, with numerous legal experts and celebrities demanding that previously ignored evidence be examined." ~dvd.netflix.com

"Both a sobering look at a true crime story and a scathing indictment of the American justice system . . . ." ~rottentomatoes.com

"West of Memphis is undoubtedly the film that will stand the test of time as the conclusive retelling of one of the most gross errors in the United States court system and an ugly watermark in the history of Arkansas' judicial work. Painting a picture with all the facts, emotion and even revelations over 17 years later, Amy Berg has not only made a quality film, but she will open the eyes of those who blindly follow our justice system and implicitly trust our officials to do the right thing." ~Etherton Anderton, Sundance

Resources for Film Discussion

 

"Aileen Wuornos: The Selling Of A Serial Killer—The 1992 Interviews" (1992)

[1 hr. 27 mins.] [film by Nick Broomfield]

 


"Filmmaker Nick Broomfield explores the troubled life and deadly end of female killer Aileen Wuornos, the woman behind Charlize Theron's Oscar-winning role for Best Actress in Monster. Filmed after Wuornos was imprisoned but before she was put to death, the documentary highlights the media blitz surrounding her case, culminating in interviews with Wuornos as well as her lawyer, her lover and her adoptive mother." ~Netflix

 

Resources for Film Discussion


"Capturing the Friedmans" (2003)

[1 hr. 47 mins.] [film by Andrew Jarecki]

 

"A family in crisis is 'captured' through real home video. The Friedmans, an average upper-middle-class Jewish family in Great Neck, NY, found their world turned upside down when the father and son were charged with child molestation in 1987. The media inundated the airwaves with coverage of the alleged crime, but some of the best footage was shot by the family themselves—seen publicly for the first time in this documentary." ~ Netflix

Wikipedia

Internet Movie Database

Preview

Preview & Video Clips

Resources for Film Discussion


"Witch Hunt" (2008)

[1 hr. 31 mins.] [film by Don Hardy Jr. & Dana Nachman]

 

"Executive produced and narrated by Sean Penn, this award winning documentary chronicles a miscarriage of justice where a dozen people [in Kern County, California] were falsely convicted of crimes committed against their own children and the long, legal process to exonerate them two decades after their incarceration." ~amazon.com

Internet Movie Database

Kern County, California child abuse cases






Resources for Film Discussion

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"Twist of Faith" (2006)


"Deliver Us From Evil" (2006)

[1 hr. 43 mins.] [film by Amy Berg]

 

"Documentary about Father Oliver O'Grady, a Catholic priest who was relocated to various parishes around the United States during the 1970s in an attempt by the Catholic Church to cover up his rape of dozens of children." ~Internet Movie Database

Film website

Wikipedia




Resources for Film Discussion

 

"Incident at Oglala: The Leonard Peltier Story" (1988)

[1 hr. 29 mins.] [film by Michael Apted]

 

"Narrated by Robert Redford, this provocative documentary chronicles the controversial events surrounding the shooting of two FBI agents on South Dakota's Pine Ridge Reservation in 1975, resulting in the conviction of Sioux activist Leonard Peltier. Featuring reenactments and interviews with key players in the incident, the film offers evidence that the government's prosecution of Peltier was unjust and politically motivated." ~Netflix

Wikipedia

 



Resources for Film Discussion

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"The Staircase" (2004)

[6 hrs. 24 mins.] [film by Jean-Xavier de Lestrade]

 

"From award-winning documentary filmmaker Jean-Xavier de Lestrade comes this real-life, gripping courtroom drama that chronicles the case of author Michael Peterson, who stood trial in 2003 for the murder of his wife, Kathleen. With unprecedented access to Peterson's lawyers, his family and others involved in the proceedings, de Lestrade offers viewers an intimate look at the judiciary process and the mystery surrounding this high-profile case." ~ Netflix

Wikipedia

Rotten Tomatoes


Resources for Film Discussion


"After Innocence" (2006)

[1 hr. 35 mins.] [film by Jessica Sanders][Showtime/American Film Foundation]

"After Innocence" tells the story of innocent men wrongfully imprisoned. The film focuses on the stories of seven men who were sent to prison for decades–in some cases death row–for crimes they did not commit, After Innocence explores the emotional journeys these men face when thrust back into society with little or no support from the system that put them behind bars. After Innocence shows that the human toll of wrongful imprisonment can last far longer than the sentences served, raising questions about society's moral obligation to the exonerated. The film places a spotlight on the flaws in our criminal justice system that lead to wrongful conviction of the innocent. ~Amazon.com

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