The True Crime world is messy. Over the past several years, a spring of podcasts, YouTube channels, Facebook groups and message boards have popped up giving True Crime fanatics a place to indulge in their favorite mysteries. The creators who run these accounts are passionate about what they do and often self-taught in the art of investigative journalism and content creation. However, their work falls into a gray area where good intentions and questionable objectives converge. And while the intention is to be helpful, the process can also be hurtful, especially when the True Crime content creator oversteps boundaries.
Documentarian Chris Kasick’s film Citizen Sleuth profiles one True Crime podcaster whose investigation into a local case begins to unravel. Emily Nestor is the host behind the popular True Crime podcast Mile Marker 181 which is devoted to the investigation of the mysterious death of Jaleayah Davis. Nestor is a fantastic storyteller and with her podcast she expertly wove a tale of small-town intrigue and police negligence. Her goal with the podcast was to solve a murder but her years of investigation ultimately led her down a different path.
Citizen Sleuth navigates some murky waters when the documentarian becomes part of the story. And just like Nestor’s podcast, this documentary evolved into something different than what was originally intended. Nestor is fascinating. She’s vulnerable and raw. Her story makes for a compelling watch.
Citizen Sleuth had its premiere at the 2023 SXSW Film and TV Festival.
The image of the blond, slim and white Barbie has been seared into our collective minds. With the Greta Gerwig movie starring Margot Robie on the horizon, Barbie has stepped back into the limelight as an important yet frivolous part of American culture. But what about Black Barbie? While the first ever Barbie doll was released in 1959, it took until 1980 for the debut of a Black Barbie. In fact, throughout history dolls have predominantly been white. When the toy industry pivoted to creating and marketing dolls with different skin colors, it was revolutionary. It’s still a work-in-progress and we’re many years from dolls being truly representative and the white Barbie to be considered the default “regular” Barbie. But Black Barbie… well she made some really important strides.
Twelve years in the making, Lagueria Davis’ debut film Black Barbie: A Documentary is an ambitious exploration of the impact Black Barbie has had over the past four decades as well as an examination of the complexities of racism and representation. Davis’ aunt, who worked for Mattel from the mid 1950s until the 1990s, was the inspiration for the project. She is interviewed extensively along with two notable Barbie designers, including Kitty Black Perkins who designed the first Black Barbie, as well as various other experts and commentators. Interviews take place on colorful and vibrant sets making it look like the subject is in a makeshift doll house. Various Barbie dolls are used as puppets in fun animation sequences
What really impressed me about this documentary is how it approaches its subject from so many angles. It’s not just a historical documentary on the history of Black Barbie. There are numerous deeply personal, philosophical and psychological discussions about the subject matter that are all done in a way that add something important to the conversation. All of these elements are pieced together in a way that keeps the audience engaged. You don’t have to even be interested in Black Barbie to be completely engrossed with this documentary. It’s just that good.
Black Barbie: A Documentary premiered at the 2023 SXSW Film and TV Festival.
Photojournalist Amanda Mustard takes on the daunting task of confronting her grandfather about his long history of his sexual abuse of minors all while chronicling the process. In her documentary Great Photo, Lovely Life, co-directed by Rachel Beth Anderson, Mustard has difficult conversations with her mother, her sister and various other victims. It’s clear that the pain her grandfather inflicted on his victims is deep and that this journey is just one step forward.
Cycles of abuse are complex and the road to healing comes with many roadblocks. And this becomes evident in the film. Not only is one big finger pointed at the abuser but there are also many conversations about how his family and community may have played a part in allowing the abuse to continue. One would expect this documentary to be a difficult watch—and it is—but because Mustard makes her family so vulnerable to examination we can’t help become invested in her story and her mother’s story. It’s difficult to analyze the effectiveness of this documentary because each viewer will have their own reaction. Expect to be put on a roller coaster of emotions.
Great Photo, Lovely Life had its world premiere at the 2023 SXSW Film and TV Festival and will be released by HBO later in the year.
During her time at the White House as First and Second Lady, Claudia “Lady Bird” Johnson recorded an audio diary chronicling all of the major events that happened. Everything from John F. Kennedy’s assassination, to her husband President Lyndon B. Johnson’s inauguration, the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Act and her own personal endeavours including her Beautification Campaign and environmental efforts. Lady Bird Johnson was a staunch supporter of her husband and LBJ often leaned on her for her wisdom and the recordings reflect their strong bond.
Directed by Dawn Porter, The Lady Bird Diaries is based on the ABC podcast In Plain Sight: Lady Bird Johnson and Julia Sweig’s book Lady Bird Johnson: Hiding In Plain Sight. The approach to this documentary is very simple. There are no interviews or commentary, just Lady Bird’s audio recordings matched with archival footage and illustrations. There are a couple interjections, including some insight from a longtime personal assistant. But otherwise this is Lady Bird telling us her stories.
Porter do a great job crafting a collection of highlights which range from major historical events to Lady Bird’s personal triumphs and struggles. I quite enjoyed hearing stories and watching footage of the LBJ family personal life including Lucy and Lynda’s weddings and the births of their children. LBJ himself looked so happy being a grandfather. While the documentary is inherently biased because it is coming from just one perspective, I appreciate that it didn’t shy away from some heavy subject matter like the Vietnam War and a confrontation with Eartha Kitt at a White House luncheon.
The intention with this documentary is clear. Lady Bird Johnson’s legacy should be recognized and the person to bring her back into the spotlight is Lady Bird herself.
The Lady Bird Diaries had its world premiere at the 2023 SXSW Film and TV Festival and will premiere on Hulu at a future date.
One of the great joys of attending the Slamdance Film Festival is getting to see so many creative and experimental short films. I always love to see what these independent filmmakers have to offer.
Here is a selection of my favorites from this year’s line-up.
TOOTH (4-1/2 minutes)
Directed by Jillian Corsie, written by Katie Gault
Cast: Janine Peck
Teeth are a great source of anxiety. At some point everyone is plagued by intrusive thoughts about their teeth. Am I brushing enough? Is my dentist judging me for how much I (don’t) floss? Am I grinding my teeth into oblivion?
For director Jillian Corsie, her intrusive thought was “What would happen if I were brushing my teeth and they all fell out?.” Her writer friend Katie Gault’s response was “Well, they’d come to life and kill you, of course.”
This idea blossomed into the short horror comedy TOOTH. We see a woman (Janine Peck) diligently clean her teeth day after day. Brush, floss, gargle, repeat. And the teeth… we’ll they’ve had enough of the abuse. And now it’s time for revenge.
This is such a brilliant short horror film. It really taps into our shared fears of dental hygiene. I especially enjoyed watching the 3D animated teeth (which are real teeth that came from the director’s mouth!) go to town on their victim. So much fun. And not for the squeamish!
MY EYES ARE UP HERE (15 minutes)
Directed by Nathan Morris, Written by Arthur Meek and Aminder Virdee
Cast: Jillian Mercado and Ben Cura
A drunken hookup leads to a morning adventure in this sexy romantic dramedy. A fashion model (Jillian Mercado) traveling to London for work wakes up in bed next to the studio assistant (Ben Cura) she met the day before. The condom broke during their late night rendezvous which leads to a trip to the pharmacy for the morning after pill. Along the way, she faces challenges of discrimination and accessibility as she navigates the city as a disabled person. This is a very sweet film about attraction and empathy. Great chemistry between the two leads.
LOLLYGAG (10 minutes)
Written and Directed by Tij D’oyen, Produced by Cameron Morton
Cast: Isaac Powell, Alex Sarrigeorgiou and Gaby Slape
Lollygag relishes in voyeurism, hedonism and the macabre. A young woman peers through her window over at the young man next door. He’s tall, dark and handsome. Lounges by the pool all day and is visited by numerous lovers. Instead of interacting with her neighbor, the woman decides she’ll stick with her fantasy even when things get gruesome. This Greek horror comedy definitely has Yorgos Lanthimos vibes. A delicious treat for the morbidly curious who relish the details but can’t stand the gore.
DON’T WORRY ABOUT IT (12 minutes)
Directed by Melissa Kong
Cast: Hanah Chang, Allyson Womack
Hannah (Hanah Chang) is dealing with a lot. Her father recently passed away and she’s not handling it well. Also, she suffers from contamination OCD which leads her to have a high level anxiety of things to be clean and results in excessive hygiene compulsions. At the behavioral health center she works with counselor Callie (Allyson Womack) on a level 7 exposure: eating a chocolate chip cookie off of a toilet seat. Don’t Worry About It offers a nice balance of comedy and awareness. There are plenty of humorous moments to enjoy especially with Hannah’s interactions with the other patients. The viewer can’t help but feel invested in Hannah’s journey and will root her on while she struggles to reach her goal.