#MUFFApproved: Making a Murderer
Making a Murderer
dir. Laura Ricciardi, Moira Demos
DOP. Iris Ng
By now you may have heard of the Netflix series Making a Murderer that premiered on December 18th. The series has blown up as the latest guilty pleasure and binge watching dream. It follows the wrongful conviction of Steven Avery who was imprisoned for rape, serving 18 years until he was exonerated through DNA evidence. Two years after his release, Avery faced a new charge: murder.
Avery’s case is dramatic and strange with accusations of tampered evidence by law enforcement, framing, and a sexting scandal. This 10-episode series was filmed over a period of 10 years and exposes a broken system that fails to protect the innocent. The co-directing team was made up of Columbia graduate students and couple, Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos, who first learned about Avery’s case when it made the front page of the New York Times. “I found it riveting and kept elbowing poor Moira and saying, ‘I cannot believe this,’” Ricciardi says.
Ricciardi was a lawyer by training before going back to grad school to get her PhD at Columbia for film, which helped immensely when sifting through and understanding mountains of legal documents. Demos worked as an editor and electrician on the set of a number of films previous to this pursuit.
The pair, along with their cinematographer Iris Ng, moved to Wisconsin in order to cover every court date and development, but also to do interviews and go through archival materials. “We rented a car and we borrowed a friend’s camera,” Demos said. “It was really to test the waters and see if there was a story.”
The filmmakers had unusual and intimate access with the Avery family and Stephen Avery, himself. A letter was written to Stephen Avery whilst he was in county jail. He then setup access to his family and his complicated story. Ricciardi said about the approach to the story, “we felt a tremendous sense of responsibility to tell their story as accurately as possible and to just be fair to them and not caricature them in any way or judge them in any way.”
Ricciardi and Demos faced backlash against the community members of Manitowoc County, but also from the state. The filmmakers had been filming everything from incourt trial, press conferences and Avery family interviews. The state took efforts to halt documentary production, claiming they needed any statements made by Avery that might provide knowledge about the murder by ordering a subpoena to obtain all of their footage. The pair hired a lawyer and fought to keep their footage.
Though the series premiered on Netflix only weeks ago, an overpowering response of support and interest in the case has resulted in an investigation by The Wisconsin Innocence Project and the hacker group Anonymous, Reddit feeds that are digging into the details of the case, as well as a major presence across social media. Demos says, “to have people respond, to have this outpouring of support, is really great, and I think it speaks to how we as a culture are not apathetic about these things. We do care. We do want to get involved. We do want things to change for the better. And that’s really great.”
My brother first introduced this series to my family over the Christmas break. When Boxing Day came and with it every excuse to wear pajamas all day and eat an excessive amount of leftover stuffing, an accompanying series to binge was the perfect way to end Christmas celebrations. Within the first 10 minutes I was hooked. Every member of my family was glued to the TV in awe of what they were seeing. I found myself staying up until 4am one night in surrender to those damned cliffhangers at the end of each episode.
The story was interesting, intriguing, complicated, and bizarre and the filmmaking was perfectly crafted and unique—I had to know more. Finding out that the series was made by women didn’t necessarily make it more enjoyable or make me think that it should deserve more attention; it instead made me think that as a documentary filmmaker there may be some hope for me to make a film people will actually see (I realise the cheese oozing from that last sentence). It made me realise that there can be payoff in perseverance when telling stories you know are worth telling and that gender doesn’t have to be the reason to stop you from doing it.
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