Documentaries, memoirs, biographies—these types of stories have become ingrained in popular culture. Generally, a year or so after a natural disaster or the publication of some sensational death, a journalist tackles the topic in depth. Any controversy surrounding the backstory floods chat rooms and NPR in a renewed fervor.
What happens when the documentary corresponds with real time? Two recent documentaries are brushing up against the main character’s current activities, a little too close for comfort.
In April, Jameis Winston of Florida State University fame will likely be the top NFL draft pick and sign with Tampa Bay. At the same time, a documentary chronicling his recent rape charges and exonerations will hit select theatres. “The Hunting Ground,” an in-depth look into the accuser’s story, features Erica Kinsman telling her side of the story and describing all-too familiar mistreatment by both FSU and local law enforcement.
It’s an interesting and inconvenient coincidence. Campus rape and the mishandling of its investigation in blatant disregard for the victims has been a forefront issue. Locally, The University of Tulsa required all students to complete sexual assault awareness training in wake of an incident and lawsuit. In January, two ex-Vanderbilt football players were convicted for rape. While Winston was cleared by FSU and not charged with a crime due to lack of evidence, the ordeal still lurks in his past.
Arguably, it’s not a coincidence at all. But why did the filmmaker choose to align the release with the NFL draft? It could be brilliant marketing strategy—revive a topic when one of the film’s characters will be back in the limelight. On the other hand, the filmmaker could be using that temporal alliance to promote awareness of the weighty issue. Perhaps it’s some commendable combination of both.
Another arguably more sensational alignment of documentary and real life aired this month in the form of director Andrew Jarecki’s “The Jinx.” After his 2010 “All Good Things,” a dramatization of the mysterious deaths surrounding billionaire heir Robert Durst, Jarecki received a call from the man himself. Over the course of two years, Jarecki interviewed Durst, eliciting dramatic revelations and half-confessions.
But nothing could have been more serendipitous than Durst’s arrest for one of the murders right before the provocative final episode aired. In the now-legendary episode, Durst mumbles unbeknownst into a hot microphone what sounds like a confession to the very murders he has consistently denied. The revelation came after an interview wherein Jarecki showed Durst damning evidence found by the filmmaker.
Of course there were questions about timing. If Jarecki wanted the element of surprise for the series, how did he withhold the letter that would be a key to Durst’s arrest from the police? The answer is that he didn’t. Relevant evidence was turned over to law enforcement months before the show shocked HBO audiences. The authorities have insisted that their timing had nothing to do with the show, and that the evidence they possessed and their investigation leading to arrest was independent of Jarecki’s contributions.
Again, it seems like a surreal coincidence. In Durst’s case, however, the investigations had never been closed, and the drama of a seeming confession and a simultaneous arrest thrilled (and in a way terrified) rapt viewers. In this instance, it seems like true movie magic stepped in to produce genius results.
Whether contrived or coincidental, documentary releases play a prominent role in issue awareness. They potentially sway public opinion and interest at crucial moments. Especially when they involve criminal accusations, timing can be particularly damning. Assessing the motivations behind the project provides the insight into whether it’s merely sensational, or whether documentary is fulfilling its purpose: to advocate and educate.
Jeff Krigel is an attorney in Tulsa who focuses his practice on criminal defense. The Jeff Krigel Law firm is a full-service Oklahoma law firm dedicated to achieving your legal goals in a competent, trusting, and result oriented manner. The firm is based in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and handles criminal defense, as well as other legal matters in all Oklahoma Counties. If you have been accused of a crime, it is important to seek the help of a qualified attorney. We offer free consultations and have payment plans available. There is no reason not speak with someone regarding your case. If you have questions regarding your specific case regarding any criminal matter, call for a free consultation. 918-994-2340