Shadow of Truth, another TV gem from Israel

Shad­ow of Truth

It’s hard to avoid describ­ing the doc­u­men­tary series Shad­ow of Truth as Israel’s Mak­ing a Mur­der­er (reviewed ear­li­er by me here). Released at round about the same time, in 2016, it was sub­se­quent­ly picked up by Net­flix and became one of their most watched true crime series, before being picked up and aired recent­ly on BBC4.

And, if you’re hap­py to accept my enthu­si­as­tic rec­om­men­da­tion as suf­fi­cient, I sug­gest you stop read­ing now, go away and watch all five episodes, before com­ing back to read the rest of this albeit con­scious­ly brief review. 

Notwith­stand­ing which, I don’t think it’s giv­ing too much away to assume that any­one who sits down to watch a five episode docu series on a famous and infa­mous mur­der tri­al will do so expect­ing at some point to be pre­sent­ed with some class of a twist.

So, and with­out giv­ing any­thing away, here very broad­ly is how it begins. A teenage girl is bru­tal­ly mur­dered in a leafy, bub­bled sub­urb in the Israeli hin­ter­land. And the first episode presents us with a clear and appar­ent­ly un-con­testable expla­na­tion as to exact­ly what hap­pened. Up until that is the final 20 sec­onds, when some­how, we appear to have the rug pulled from under us.

And in episode two, every­thing we thought we knew about what had hap­pened is, remark­ably, turned com­plete­ly upside down.

Cre­at­ed and direct­ed by Yotam Guen­del­man and Ari Pines it stirred up quite the storm when it was orig­i­nal­ly screened in Israel. Con­stant­ly sur­pris­ing, painstak­ing­ly researched and utter­ly com­pelling, it’s a loud and ring­ing endorse­ment for a free and inde­pen­dent media landscape. 

Which is as fun­da­men­tal for a func­tion­ing democ­ra­cy as main­tain­ing a clear sep­a­ra­tion between the judi­cia­ry and the vest­ed inter­ests of polit­i­cal parties.

Watch the trail­er for Shad­ow of Truth here:

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A Death Row Tale; making a storyteller.

Making A Murderer.

Mak­ing A Murderer.

Of the many depress­ing things about the dis­turb­ing Mak­ing A Mur­der­er, the most trou­bling is the idea that not one but two juries of twelve men and women good and true man­aged to find Steven Avery and his nephew Bren­dan Dassey guilty.

As is the pro­ce­dure with every jury, their duty was explained to them both plain­ly and repeat­ed­ly. They need­ed to be sure of the defendant’s guilt beyond all rea­son­able doubt.

And yet, these juries were able to hear how two men of sig­nif­i­cant­ly low­er than aver­age intel­li­gence were able to vio­lent­ly mur­der a woman in their own home, before chop­ping her up and burn­ing her in their back yard, with­out leav­ing a shred of evi­dence or a sin­gle drop of blood behind in the house as evi­dence, with­out hav­ing any doubt what­so­ev­er as to their guilt.

I’m ignor­ing obvi­ous­ly the ludi­crous­ly placed car key that mag­i­cal­ly turns up in the mid­dle of the floor in Steven’s bed­room, in an area that had already been searched six times.

Michael Peterson, astonishingly, behind bars.

Michael Peter­son, aston­ish­ing­ly, behind bars.

That a jury could hear the evi­dence in the Avery and Dassey tri­al, Mak­ing a Mur­der­er, in the Michael Peter­son case, The Stair­case, in the Adnan Syed case, Ser­i­al sea­son 1, and in the Tim Cole case, from Paul Kix’s recent New York­er piece ‘Recog­ni­tion’, and not see in front of them a moun­tain of doubt form­ing before their very eyes is quite sim­ply hard to credit.

Which is not to say that they were all nec­es­sar­i­ly inno­cent, just that there was some doubt as to their guilt. That any­one could have heard any of those tri­als and not come away with at least a few, rea­son­able doubts almost defies belief.

The most char­i­ta­ble thing that can be said, and I’m clutch­ing at straws here, is that it is no longer rea­son­able to expect ordi­nary peo­ple to be able to ignore the media cir­cus that inevitably springs up around the more lurid cas­es. And that the sort of unin­formed tabloid jour­nal­ism that that pro­duces is impos­si­ble for a jury to steer clear of in this age of twen­ty-four hour “news” coverage.

Adnan Syed, whose story is told in Serial.

Adnan Syed, whose sto­ry is told in Serial.

Per­haps it is time to dis­pense with the jury sys­tem when it comes to mur­der tri­als. At least then, all we would have to deal with is the gross inep­ti­tude of the judi­cial sys­tem, and the blind prej­u­dices of some of its prac­ti­tion­ers deter­mined to prof­it by it.

So it was with a heavy heart that I sat down to watch A Death Row Tale: The Fear of 13. After watch­ing Mak­ing A Mur­der­er, The Stair­case, and lis­ten­ing to Ser­i­al, all of which are cap­ti­vat­ing if unre­lent­ing­ly depress­ing, the prospect of wit­ness­ing yet anoth­er inex­plic­a­ble mis­car­riage of jus­tice real­ly didn’t appeal to me.

I’ll not give any of the details of Nick Yarris’ extra­or­di­nary sto­ry away, except to say that even­tu­al­ly, and mer­ci­ful­ly, it bucks the trend.

Masterful storyteller David Yarris.

Mas­ter­ful sto­ry­teller Nick Yarris.

I’m almost embar­rassed to con­fess that this is yet anoth­er Sto­ryville doc­u­men­tary that I’m rec­om­mend­ing (reviewed ear­li­er here). But then I remem­ber all those over-pro­duced, idea-free fran­chise films, the pedes­tri­an­ly pro­duced tele­vi­sion pro­grammes and all those need­less­ly pub­lished books that get foist­ed on us every week, and I remind myself that the likes of Sto­ryville need to be cel­e­brat­ed loud­ly from the tops of every and all avail­able rooftops.

But the last word has to go to Nick Yarris. It was incred­i­bly brave of film mak­er David Sington to make a film made up almost entire­ly of one man sit­ting in a chair and talk­ing to us. But then again, what a man.

When Nick Yarris went to gaol at the age of 22, he arrived there as an anti-social drug addict who was bare­ly able to read and write. And yet, through noth­ing than his his own force of will, he re-made him­self as a thought­ful, edu­cat­ed and qui­et­ly intel­li­gent man who would even­tu­al­ly trans­form him­self into a daz­zling­ly bril­liant sto­ry­teller. And what a tale.

You can see the trail­er for A Death Row Tale here, for Mak­ing a Mur­der­er here, and The Stair­case here.

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