Loading Doc: Defending Gacy, Election Season, and the Latest from Kartemquin
August 31, 2016 by Todd Lillethun
How can a lawyer defend a serial killer? That was the basic question that Sam Amirante confronted back in 1978, after he had left the Cook County Public Defender’s office to move into private practice, and found his first client to be John Wayne Gacy. His book recounting the ordeal, JOHN WAYNE GACY: DEFENDING A MONSTER, co-authored by Danny Broderick, was optioned by Chicago-based directors Marc Menet and Scott Prestin and Executive Producer Joe Klest for a documentary that began production in 2012. Interviews were shot in the actual court room, jail cell, and other locations involved in the case, and the authors, who became co-producers of the film, provided many of their own archival materials. Marc says, “One of the major challenges was building drama into a story that was already so well known.” To create drama, the film explores challenges around criminal prosecution, and why someone as evil as Gacy still deserves a vigorous defense. After an initial burst of production, the project lay dormant for long periods due to other projects, family commitments, and difficulties raising funds for post. A series of editors had worked on the film, but when the national interest in true crime emerged with shows like The People vs. O.J. Simpson, and The Jinx, editor (and co-producer) Jason Madeja renewed energy to finish. A rough cut has been completed, composer Andrew Edwards was hired to write the score, and last month a voice over narration was recorded at Periscope Post & Audio with Jim Belushi. A narrative adaption of the book is also in the works, but the doc is expected to be completed later this year.
Count Me In
Just in time for election season, director and DP Ines Sommer is finishing a documentary about participatory budgeting titled COUNT ME IN, which is scheduled to air on PBS in late October. As a resident of Chicago’s Rogers Park neighborhood, Sommer became intrigued by Alderman Joe Moore’s push to let residents vote on how money was spent in his district. Each ward in Chicago receives $1.3 million per year to spend on infrastructure and development, which can include everything from filling potholes to planting gardens in vacant lots. Decisions on how to spend that money has traditionally been left up to aldermen, but participatory budgeting gives residents the power to make those decisions instead. The film shows community members on the north, south, and west sides of the city driving the process in efforts to improve their neighborhoods: they write proposals, pitch their positions, and submit everything for a vote to their neighbors. It’s an empowering, but also labor intensive, and occasionally messy undertaking, and has been adopted by seven wards across the city, plus 1,500 other cities in the U.S. and Latin America. Sommer began shooting in 2013, and editor Susanne Suffredin (of the Kindling Group) was brought on last year. In 2014 the MacArthur Foundation awarded Sommer a grant to finish the film and connected the project to WTTW for distribution.
Chicago filmmaker Dinesh Sabu is close to finishing UNBROKEN GLASS, the story of his journey to learn about his parents who passed away when he was six years old. His father died of stomach cancer, and after his mother committed suicide shortly thereafter, his eldest sister became his legal guardian. As the youngest of five siblings, Sabu lived fairly happily with his brothers and sisters, despite the tragedy, but once he grew up, he wanted to learn more about his parents. He knew his mother had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, but did not know how his family had dealt with it, or to what extent mental illness existed in the family. In 2008, after becoming an intern at Kartemquin Films, he began shooting interviews with his siblings in the U.S. and relatives in India, and talking with Kartemquin Artistic Director Gordon Quinn about turning the subject into a documentary. In 2010 Quinn became executive producer; Matt Lauterbach, a fellow former-intern, became editor in 2013. For years Sabu continued shooting though he believes the story did not really take shape until fall 2014 when a rough cut was finished. The film is currently in color correction, and has already been accepted to several festivals. A list of screenings will be announced in September.
Todd Lillethun is a freelance producer and editor at Flicker Effects and student advisor at Northwestern University's MFA program for Documentary Media.