Amdoc 2016: Brother’s Keeper

There is indeed a diversity in the programming of American Documentary Film Festival 2016, the fifth edition held here in Palm Springs. Reportage, documentary films of artistic quality and also a chance to dig into film history, this time Joe Berlinger’s ”Brother’s Keeper” that he made with Bruce Sinofsky and which came out in 1992 as something new in vérité style. Berlinger (Sinofsky passed away last year) was on stage to tell about the film in an interesting session, where he remembered how it was to shoot on 16mm at a time where (in the 1980’es), as he said ”documentaries were drying out”. ”Go out and tell a human story, you don’t know what is going to happen”, was the starting point for the two directors of a film that is a classic in film history, fresh and touching to watch in 2016 as well.

”It launched our career”, Berlinger said, ”the film got the Sundance Audience Award, we set up our own company and did self-distribution for theatres, and we made a profit”.

”We spent three weeks with the brothers before we started shooting, we wanted to create a rapport with the brothers”.

For newcomers in the documentary history, here is the description of the film taken from the catalogue of Amdoc. And the film is easy to find on Amazon:

Delbert, Bill, Lyman, and Roscoe Ward are illiterate bachelor brothers who never ventured beyond their 99 acre dairy farm in central New York State. Known by their neighbors as “The Ward Boys”, they’ve shared a two-room shack with no running water or indoor toilet for as long as anyone could remember. Their quiet life was shattered June 6, 1990, when Bill was found dead in the bed he shared with Delbert. By day’s end, Delbert had confessed to suffocating the ailing Bill as an act of mercy, but the local community believed Delbert was being framed. Delbert’s subsequent retraction, the village’s fervent belief in his innocence, and the national media attention visited upon a sleepy rural community make Brother’s Keeper a real-life murder mystery that examines larger social issues such as euthanasia, the plight of the aging, rural poverty and the fairness of the American justice system.

The film provides a fascinating portrait of The Ward Brothers’ eccentric and time-warped existence as it clashes with the modern criminal justice system — from pre-trial courtroom drama to lively village fundraisers; from the initial media feeding frenzy to the explosive trial itself.

Photo: Palm Springs, Little Tuscany. Two nights ago.

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Tue Steen Müller
Tue Steen Müller

Müller, Tue Steen
Documentary Consultant and Critic, DENMARK

Worked with documentary films for more than 20 years at the Danish Film Board, as press officer, festival representative and film consultant/commissioner. Co-founder of Balticum Film and TV Festival, Filmkontakt Nord, Documentary of the EU and EDN (European Documentary Network).
Awards: 2004 the Danish Roos Prize for his contribution to the Danish and European documentary culture. 2006 an award for promoting Portuguese documentaries. 2014 he received the EDN Award “for an outstanding contribution to the development of the European documentary culture”. 2016 The Cross of the Knight of the Order for Merits to Lithuania. 2019 a Big Stamp at the 15th edition of ZagrebDox. 2021 receipt of the highest state decoration, Order of the Three Stars, Fourth Class, for the significant contribution to the development and promotion of Latvian documentary cinema outside Latvia. In 2022 he received an honorary award at DocsBarcelona’s 25th edition having served as organizer and programmer since the start of the festival.
From 1996 until 2005 he was the first director of EDN (European Documentary Network). From 2006 a freelance consultant and teacher in workshops like Ex Oriente, DocsBarcelona, Archidoc, Documentary Campus, Storydoc, Baltic Sea Forum, Black Sea DocStories, Caucadoc, CinéDOC Tbilisi, Docudays Kiev, Dealing With the Past Sarajevo FF as well as programme consultant for the festivals Magnificent7 in Belgrade, DOCSBarcelona, Verzio Budapest, Message2Man in St. Petersburg and DOKLeipzig. Teaches at the Zelig Documentary School in Bolzano Italy.

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