Crime Film Documentaries

Instructor: James R. Elkins


Crime Film Documentaries will focus on selected crime film documentaries. The films to be screened will likely include the following:

"Murder on a Sunday Morning" (2001) (a 15 year-old African American high-school student in Florida is charged with murder and successfully defended by public defenders).

"Brother's Keeper" (1992) (a reclusive farmer in upstate New York is charged with killing his brother).

"The Thin Blue Line" (1988) (Errol Morris's acclaimed documentary investigates the murder of a Dallas police officer; the film is credited with freeing Randall Adams, the man originally--and erroneously--convicted of the killing).

"The Staircase" (2004/2005) (a writer in North Carolina is accused of murdering his wife)(and after the filming and airing of the documentary 2012 is granted a new trial and ultimately entered an Alford plea).

"Paradise Lost" (1996/1999) (three young men in Arkansas are convicted of killing three school boys in a case that became one one of the most widely-known "innocence" cases in the United States) (the defendants in this case, including Damien Echols, who was on death-row in Arkansas, entered Alford pleas in 2011 and were released from prison). As an alternative to "Paradise Lost" we might, an an alternative watch "West of Memphis" (2012).

"Aileen Wuornos: The Selling Of A Serial Killer--The 1992 Interviews" (1992) & "Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer" (2003) (an infamous female serial killer who was executed in Florida in 2002; portrayed by Charlize Theron in an Oscar-winning role for Best Actress in the film "Monster").

"Capturing the Friedmans" (2003) (the Friedmans, father and son, in an upper-middle-class Jewish family in Great Neck, New York, are charged with child molestation in 1987 in a crime that received extensive media coverage).

"Incident at Oglala: The Leonard Peltier Story" (1991) (a film narrated by Robert Redford, chronicles events surrounding the shooting of two FBI agents on South Dakota's Pine Ridge Reservation in 1975 that result in the conviction of Sioux activist Leonard Peltier).

The course will meet one evening each week to screen the film and one class each week to discuss the film that was screened earlier in the week. The focus of the course will not be on the technical and theoretical aspects of crime film documentaries. Our focus will be the criminal justice system: prosecutors and defense lawyers, criminal trial judges, and the alleged crimes committed by defendants (in some cases defendants who are later exonerated). The documentaries raise significant issues about shoddy police investigations, prosecutorial misconduct, coerced false confessions, bogus expert testimony, biased judges, and ineffective counsel. The course exposes what might be called the "shadow" that accompanies our criminal justice system. All assigned course readings will be found, via the Web, on the course website (or made available to you as Xerox handouts). For each film, you will be directed to an array of reading materials (books, articles, and web-based resources) relevant to the film. It will be your responsible to peruse these materials, either before or after the screening of the film. I will be available to meet with you and discuss your work for the course (before and after each class). Or, you can schedule a meeting appointment by email and I will try to meet with you at a more convenient time. My office is Rm. 110.

evaluation of your work in the course