STOCKHOLM – Murder topped the agenda at the World Congress of Science and Factual Producers Wednesday (Dec. 7) with two morning sessions exploring the dark and often difficult task of finding fresh techniques to develop stories about death and retribution for a growing global fanbase of factual film noir.
From HBO’s docuseries The Jinx to Netflix’s Making a Murderer, ” we are in the midst of a rather intense crime wave in both fact and fiction,” said Richard Bradley, managing director of UK prodco Lion Television and moderator of the first panel of the morning, Making Murders.
That these stories are so popular is no surprise to Liza Marklund, the Swedish-born crime writer and documentary filmmaker who took to the stage in a separate session with Barcroft Production’s Sam Barcroft. Sweden itself has a rich literary noir culture – often referred to as Scandi-noir – and a loyal readership quite taken by the dark world of crime fiction and morally complex characters.
Murder, after all, is the most dramatic and violent aspect of our societies, Marklund noted. That’s so, even in a relatively peaceful and socially progressive place like Sweden. No one is immune from its seduction.
“Violence is way to get power and power — not money — makes the world go round. It goes for everyone, the abusive husband and the dictator,” she noted, adding, “I think we like to explore the nature of violence in a secure manner in our society.”
Earlier, the team behind the BAFTA-winning docuseries The Murder Detectives (pictured) talked about the project’s challenges and ultimate success in breaking new ground by blurring the lines between documentary and factual to breathe new life into police-investigation programming.
“There is a sort of documentary dogma that has evolved that tells us what we can and can’t do, and we can get hamstrung,” said series director David Nath of the very conscious push to create a story that was distinct from the “sea of crime films.”
“The rule that I conform to is ‘(Can) I make a film and go bed at night and sleep because I am faithful to the truth?’ There are many ways to skin the cat and it is quite liberating to free yourself from some of these so-called rules,” he said.
Joining Nath on the Bradley-moderated panel was series editor Ben Brown, Amy Flanagan, deputy head of factual for Channel 4, and Hamish Mykura, EVP of programming and development for National Geographic Channel.
The 3 x 60-minute series, which aired in the UK in 2015, tells the story of an 18-month police investigation into the brutal stabbing of a Bristol teen. The first part shadowed a team of detectives piecing together the murder, while others follow the family in search of justice while coping with the loss of their child, and another family trying to save their son from incarceration.
Lending a unique voice to the project, the series was shot in real-time with audio interviews with police layered over images to allow viewers inside the minds of the detectives as the case played out.
“It was an absolute miracle that it ever got made at all,” said Flanagan, noting the series was originally envisioned as two to three separate stories, rather than a single story told over three segments.
“When we got the call about this case, we had no director, no access agreement in place… We didn’t know the people involved but Neil (Grant, executive producer) said we should shoot it anyway and thank God we did because it was the only case in a year that we ever got full consent for,” she said.
Kymura, who is currently readying another murder-themed docuseries, Lawless Oceans, for Nat Geo Channel in 2017, said The Murder Detectives works because it captures more than just the story of a single victim and subsequent police investigation.
“This is a great series on black-on-black violence, which is a huge issue. Part of the real cleverness is the way that issue really comes more and more to the fore. You ended up making a program with a really big theme and that is a real achievement,” he noted.
Nath said, going into the project, that big-picture concept was always the goal.
“We knew the story that we end up with has got to be bigger than the detection of a crime. It’s about the choices that people make and the collateral damage. People’s lives hang on the absolute thread of those choices.”
The WCSFP continues until Dec. 8 in Stockholm, Sweden.