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"We don't think the truth emerged here with respect to the Halbach case... It doesn't mean we're convinced of Steven Avery's innocence," Moira Demos and Laura Ricciardi told Radiolab's Pat Walters in a recent update to its 2013 "Reasonable Doubt" segment (which examined the Avery case from a distinctly different perspective). They firmly deny that their intention in making the documentary was clearing Avery's name.
Rather they put pressure on the importance of humility in the face of uncertainty and question the leaps to judgement rampant in the internet buzz concerning their docuseries. Walters follows up by wondering if, after learning and thinking about a subject for a significant chunk of time, it is not natural to want to say something about it. "That's one of the points of the series... we are trying to challenge the viewer to deal with how hard it is to embrace ambiguity. Perhaps you can never reach a position of certainty, but you should put some energy into it."
Making a Murderer does not suggest any obviously gendered approach in style or content, but it is hard not to appreciate the success of the filmmakers' endeavor in an industry that is dominated by men. In 2014-15, "women accounted for 27% of creators, directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and directors of photography working on broadcast programs and 25% of those working in these key roles on broadcast, cable, and Netflix programs," according to the Center for Study of Women in Television and Film. And when you consider the scrappy beginnings of this Netflix hit, the feat appears even more impressive.
Demos and Ricciardi were grad students at Columbia Film School when they read the 2005 Times article "Freed by DNA, Now charged in New Crime," which sent them down the ten-year-long rabbit hole that became Making a Murderer.
Regarding that first encounter with Avery's story Demos, in a Vulture interview said, "Reading the article, we learned that Steven had a multimillion-dollar lawsuit pending against the very county that had investigated him back in 1985 and was responsible for his wrongful conviction. We immediately recognized the conflict of interest and wanted to know more. So we decided to go out to Wisconsin for a week to test the waters and see if there was a story. We rented a car and borrowed a camera, and we drove out December 5. Our first day of shooting was December 6. No real preproduction on this one."
Ricciardi, who was a lawyer before she went to film school and who continued to pick up legal work throughout the project to help finance it, told NY Times, "Because trials are inherently dramatic, we knew we could come out and shoot it vérité-style."
Cinéma Vérité is a style of filmmaking in which "you place a camera in real life , and document it as it unfolds around you. of course I understand that my presence is a catalyst to telling that story, but it's a great way to just reflect on a situation and have a conscious camera and be able to let your eye follow your heart and vice versa," said Suree Towfighnia, an independent documentarian whose 2006 Standing silent Nation was broadcast on PBS's acclaimed POV. I interviewed Towfighnia on January 14 to get some perspective and she offered these thoughts regarding women documentarians and what, in her opinion, they tend to bring to the table, "there's something to just finding heart and emotion and not being afraid to go there and open up. I think we take time in telling the right story."
In Making a Murderer, the filmmakers elicit emotional interviews while remaining outside the frame. However, due mainly to accessibility, viewers get to know the Avery family best. And while the central roles are played by men, namely the two accused and the two teams of lawyers, prosecuting and defense, and the officers who investigated the crime, there are also several memorable, if somewhat peripheral women, including Avery's mother and sister, as well as the two victims.
Teresa Halbach, the young photographer whose murder sets the Manitowoc police on Avery a second time , hauntingly speaks from her audio diaries. Ricciardi told Women in the World that although the Halbach family declined to participate in their documentary, "it was really important to us to include her voice."
It is doubtful that a typical one or two hour documentary would have allowed for the variety of voices and the feeling of total emersion the docuseries offers. Executive producer Lisa Nishimura at Netflix (who picked up the project after it had been passed over by HBO, PBS and others), told NY Times, "What was clear was they were going to need a platform where the series could unfold in the well-paced, immersive way the story demanded."
When asked by Women And Hollywood what advice they have for other female directors, Moira Demos and Laura Ricciardi answered succinctly, "Take up the space you need to do your best work." Making a Murderer took ten years to make and takes approximately ten hours to watch. Time, perhaps, is at the heart of the story as much as is justice and truth.
You can watch the entire ten episodes of Making a Murderer in a single binge (or take all the time you like)by visiting the show on Netflix. The first episode is also available on YouTube.
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