Thursday, January 23, 2014

CAPTIVATED: The trials of Pamela Smart (2014)

Director: Jeremiah Zagar

Starring: Pamela Smart

More info: IMDb

Tagline: One woman's trail, a nation's entertainment

Plot:  A small-town murder in New England became one of the highest-profile cases of the twentieth century.  As the first fully televised court case, the Pamela Smart trial rattleed the consciousness of America.  From gavel to gavel, a nation tuned in , and reality TV was born.  Pulsating with sex, drugs, betrayal and murder, the trial inspired 20 years of television shows, books, plays and movies, including TO DIE FORE (), starring Nicole Kidman and directed by Gus Van Sant.

My rating: 8/10

Will I watch it again? Nah.

Sundance Film Festival 2014

I was well into college when this happened which  means I didn't pay much attention to it.  Hell, I wasn't even watching TV during those years.  I vaguely remember something about it but it took watching this documentary at the Sundance Film Festival today to jog my memory.  The bottom line is she was convicted in the court of public opinion for the six months leading up to the trial.  The media in all of its forms took this ball and ran with it all the way to the finish line.  Anyone and everyone jumped onto this ratings booster and painted a horrific portrayal of Pamela Smart which may or may not have made a difference in her criminal trial.  There were a lot of questions raised in this film that, by the end of the picture, I was seriously wondering if maybe she was innocent of murder.  The film makers make a lot of valid points that indicate she might just be a victim of the media and, if so, this is a tragic story.

I really like the way Zagar presents the material. The media circus began in 1990.  A plethora of video footage of the news reports, trial and miscellaneous TV shows (Geraldo, Donahue, etc) are show on old CRT televisions in various locations (homes, bars, etc).  One of the jurors recorded her daily thoughts onto a microcassete which is used in much the same way to a great effect.  Of course there are lots of interviews with the principle players including Smart herself.  It's a fascinating picture and not just for raising questions of guilt or innocence but for how much of a role the media can have in shaping public opinion. The sad thing is, innocent or not, Pamela Smart has been exploited in every way, in all forms of media...including this film.

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