Sunday, April 17, 2011


I have seen so many strong films at this year's festival--but, surprisingly, none were award winners. However, I was happy to see that "How to Die in Oregon," which I loved so much at PIFF, won two awards at this festival.

On Sunday I saw two films that were not in competition, and one, "Scenes of a Crime" (8), which won the festival's Grand Jury Award. I'll admit that I had opted not to see it during its first festival showing yesterday; it deals with a ten-hour police interrogation of a man accused of causing the death of his four-month-old son, and it seemed like a little too much law for me. I'm glad I caught the extra award showing though--the film is excellent, even if upsetting in all the ways I expected it would be. The filmmakers have done a careful job of presenting how it is possible for a person to confess to a crime that he did not actually commit; they have found a case that is complicated, in which the motives of the police interrogators make sense, but also where the defense attorneys and defense experts do a very credible job of explaining the defense case. Unlike so many films about legal topics, there are no cheap short-cuts here; just clear-eyed analysis, painstakingly laying bare where the process broke down. The ten-hour interrogation was taped and played for the jury at the man's trial, and is also a focal point of a film. Even though review of such interrogations is a regular part of my work, the film was quite helpful to portraying where an interrogation can go wrong. Though it's unlikely to receive a theatrical release, I hope this film is able to secure a wider audience, perhaps on television.

Director Errol Morris loves oddball and strange-but-true stories, and he is right in his wheelhouse in "Tabloid" (7), which unravels a story that was notorious in the Britain tabloids in the 1970s (and apparently is still notorious among Mormon missionaries). At the heart of the story is Joyce McKinney, who clearly relishes the opportunity thirty years later to relate her version of what happened on camera. Problem is, she's as unreliable a narrator as you could possibly want--but then, there aren't any actually reliable narrators to counter her story, just alternative ones. The mystery here has been dubbed "the case of the manicled Mormon" and, without giving too much away (since the unfolding is half the fun), it involves the intersection of a patently delusional woman, members of the Mormon church, and the tabloid culture itself. Morris is obviously having great fun with the absurdity of it all, and though I don't know that there is any broader significance to the proceedings, it's a unique and entertaining ride.

One more post left to go: for my favorite film of the festival. Coming up!

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