It hurts me to say it, but we have to accept Summer is on the wind down. Parents and children alike are bracing themselves for the flurry and rush of ‘Back To School’ shopping. Anyone with so much as flutter of outdoor space is cramming a barbecue into every available weekend and, in the UK at least, we’re digging out the winter clothes we only put into storage …. okay honestly, like a week ago.
Even if you’re an adult who doesn’t get summer breaks, someone for whom the past few weeks have progressed identically to every other week of the year (except warmer and with a slightly faster commute), we can all feel the autumn closing in. If you live in the UK, you can actually see Winter waving at you from over the horizon.
So with that in mind, how should we best spend these last few weeks of sunshine and warmth? Why, the only way we can; by hiding indoors with the curtains drawn, and burning through all our spare time on true crime documentaries.
We are deep into a golden age of documentary film making right now. Think of the last year alone, which saw the release of The Keepers, Mommy Dead and Dearest and Casting JonBenet. Documentaries can go viral overnight now, where before it may have taken years to reach audiences of the same scale, but this revolution has been going on for a while. With that in mind, and with Oohlo as ever endeavouring to bring you the best and most Must See entertainment there is, here are a few documentaries you may not have seen, but will find yourself losing entire weekends over before you even realise it’s Friday night.
There is one thing we need to acknowledge about Andrew Suh; Andrew Suh is guilty. Andrew Suh, upon his sister Catherine’s request, shot and murdered her long time partner Robert O’Dubaine. This film it is not about proving Andrew was framed or wrongly accused of a crime. Andrew Suh absolutely murdered Robert and waited in the dark for four hours to do it.
This film, and the power of its story, is about asking why. In the 2010 documentary, Iris K. Shim explores the many reasons behind Andrew’s decision, and what turned a sweet, friendly kid who was popular at college — and who could probably have had a bright career in any discipline — into a first degree murderer. On the surface his motive is simple; Catherine told Andrew that her boyfriend was abusing her. Worse yet, he was the one who had killed their mother, who died in an unsolved stabbing a few years earlier. Andrew, a teenaged child at the time, had cleaned up his mother’s congealed blood after her death. Many of us might have the same explosive response, especially in the time since the stabbing, Robert had taken Andrew into his home and had become like a brother to the orphaned young man. For Andrew this apparent kindness became a tainted betrayal.
It is only in this intimate exploration that we come understand why these claims drove Andrew, not to the police, but to murder. The House of Suh examines Andrew and Catherine’s difficult childhood; how the loss of the first born son and their interpretation of traditional system of Korean family dynamics drove their parents into a perpetual state of grief, taking out their anger and frustration on Catherine while lavishing love, yet also too much responsibility on their youngest child, the ‘conceived to fix it’, Andrew.; In one brutal scene Andrew describes watching his father douse Catherine in petrol because she dared to stand up to physical abuse. Andrew, in the meantime, was featured in the local Korean news for sitting at his dying fathers bedside, praised as ‘A good son’.
As their grim story unfolds, it becomes apparent that neither of the Suh siblings had much of a hope of growing up ‘okay’; it’s the film’s deft and detailed exploration of their experiences in the Suh home that makes it so easy to see why their lives culminated in a brutal murder.
Perhaps the most fascinating thing about the film is watching the response from the family of his victim. You expect and would understand their rage and their grief, but what you do not expect is their calm and rational understanding of why Andrew did what he did . In a way, their understanding frames the narrative of the film, what they knew of the Suh children, and what we learn as we watch. The House of Suh is available on Amazon.
This is one of those documentaries that I’m surprised isn’t discussed or mentioned more often. Perhaps it’s because there is no real mystery to be solved; rather an examination of the impact of a crime on a tiny and insular community.
Badlands: Texas follows the same basic model as other, more well known serialised documentaries, spreading the story over eight episodes that flesh out, not only the events depicted but also the people who are impacted by a brutal crime. A West Texas border town called Teralingua has a current population of 58. In such a tiny population, every single resident has a role to play, and of course, everybody knows everybody. Every penny the residents make comes from tourism, and they do pretty well for themselves. Teralingua sits near the border, which guarantees a decent flow of tourists traveling through to Mexico, and it has its own draw in astonishingly beautiful local scenery, where it sits on the Rio Grande River, and a surprisingly lit night life.
This documentary depicts the fracturing of a tightly knit community, by the murder of a beloved local bar owner, Glen P. Felts at the hands of his best friend, an equally well known and well liked river guide, Tony Flint. If there is a mystery at all it lays in the motive for the crime. Only Tony and Glenn know why Glenn died, and Tony’s claim of ‘self defence’ against the much smaller man doesn’t ring true for anyone.
The retelling is spread between a few choice residents most closely impacted by the crime, most of whom were good friends with both victim and killer alike.
Alongside recounting the crime, we’re shown how hard life is in a ghost town that is entirely off grid and in doing so, the impact of the crime is made all the more apparent. Particularly affected by the tragedy is one Ronda Haberer. A lone woman in a town where a lone anybody would struggle, Ronda is deeply scarred by the death of her dear friend, Glenn at the hands of her other dear friend, Tony. She really becomes the heart of the story, as she follows the trial and its deeply shocking outcome, while still trying to grieve and in the midst of building up her own business and life.
She’s not the only one worth watching for. There’s the anti-government musician and mechanic, the aging hippy, whose story over eight episodes reaches depths as tragic as the murder that shook their community. Particularly curious is Ty Mitchell, an eyepatch wearing cowboy who appears to communicate entirely in dramatic platitudes, as if his while life has been scripted by someone from the golden age of Spaghetti Westerns. Every one of these people is fascinating, and profoundly real and honest about their responses to this crime.
Badlands, Texas will suck you in as readily as The Keepers, and is available on Netflix now.
This one might be cheating … The Imposter wasn’t always well known, but very recently has picked up traction and gained much more of a following than it had when I first sought it out. Still, I don’t feel like enough people are aware of this story, which is most assuredly not done being told.
In 1994, a troubled 13 year old boy vanished from San Antonio, Texas. Nicholas Barclay had a juvenile record and was worried about possibly being moved to a group home. Police figured he had run away, and little was ever really done to recover him. His case seemed doomed to become just another unsolved disappearance, a family who would never get closure.
Then and by total happenstance, something occurred that nobody could have seen coming, that rather than resolve or close the case, blew it wide open. Three years after Nicholas vanished a young man turned up in a group home in Spain, claiming to be Nicholas Barclay, and the victim of sex trafficking and horrific abuse. This young man was 23 year old Frenchman, Frederic Bourdin, a con man who had made something of a life out of pretending to be broken children.
Despite the obvious clues this man was not Nicholas, like his thick French accent and his eyes and hair both being the wrong colour, the Barclay family embraced him. After travelling to Spain to first confirm his identity, they brought him back to Texas as their ‘recovered’ Nicholas.
I know, right? That’s just weird.
With that decision, the focus of the film deftly shifts. The question is less about why and how Bourdin took advantage of the Barclays, and becomes more about whether the Barclays took advantage of him, or rather, the out he gave them.
What makes The Imposter probably my favourite film on this list is how it actually looks. Take note of the way Bourdin delivers his story directly to camera, and how other figures in the story speak to the interviewer, out of frame. It’s a clever way of making you wonder about the reliability of your narrators. All of them.
The Imposter can be watched on Daily Motion today.