Written by guest contributor Dave Fox
Even if you haven't seen Making A Murderer yet, you have heard about. It's been a huge subject for "water cooler" discussions in offices (do offices still have water coolers?) and has blown up on social media. An online petition even prompted a response from The White House!
So why has it caused such a sensation? Ten years in the making, the documentary tells the story of Steven Avery, an unremarkable man from Manitowoc County, Wisconsin. The Avery family owned a large vehicle salvage yard in Manitowoc County from which they made a modest living. Steven Avery's life took a wrong turn in 1985, when he was arrested for the sexual assault of a local woman, Penny Beernsten. He was later convicted of the crime, despite having numerous alibis for his whereabouts at the time of the attack. Avery spent 18 years in prison as a result, until DNA evidence pointed in the right direction, towards another man guilty of several violent crimes in the area. Avery was freed in 2o03, once the miscarriage of justice was confirmed. Understandably, having lost nearly two decades of his life, he filed a lawsuit against the Manitowoc County Sheriffs Department and several individuals associated with his case. He was looking for damages in excess of $30m.
Soon after filing his lawsuit, Avery found himself behind bars again - accused of the murder of local photographer Teresa Halbach. Soon after, his nephew Brendan Dassey was also accused of involvement in the violent crime. The documentary delves deep into the case, alleging a conflict of interest for the Manitowoc County law enforcement officials who dealt with both of Avery's arrests.
Because Making A Murderer is on Netflix, it's not an ordinary documentary. An hour long show, even a feature length film, would not be able to go into as much detail a this show does. The documentary consists of 10 episodes of 45 minutes to one hour, and it unfolds at a slow yet beguiling pace. The tension soon ratchets up though after only a couple of episodes, and you'll find yourself hooked.
Film makers Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos do a wonderful job of using the documentary format to tell the story of a true crime thriller, with all its twists and turns. I don't want spoil anything, but even after it's over, the hours and hours of evidence, there are still questions to be asked and answered. Certainly, there are still enough theories and counter theories online to show that Making A Murderer has got plenty of amateur sleuths thinking! The film clearly has an agenda - like almost any documentary - a story that it wants to tell, and whatever you may think about the innocence (or otherwise) of Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey, it will certainly make you think, and wonder exactly what it says about the American justice system. And there can never be too many thought provoking documentaries made. Let's hope the success of Making A Murderer heralds a new dawn for the documentary.
Making A Murderer Directors/Writers: Laura Ricciardi & Moira Demos Studio: Netflix & Synthesis Films