Inspired by actual events: Amanda Knox and Oklahoma Bombing, biased films?
I've always been concerned about the representation of real life in film, as I brought up in the feature Historical accuracy in films, and there are two projects right now that have reminded me of this issue, and one of them is very alarming and could well be affecting people's opinion of someone's appeal.
First there's the news that Barry Levinson is about to make a film about the Oklahoma City bombing and to try and build a conspiracy case through the film, then there's the story of the Amanda Knox made for television film that is making judgements and claims about a case that is on active appeal.
It does concern me that younger people are actually believing the events of so called factual films over actual history, films that carry titles such as "based on actual events" or "inspired by a true story" or other such wishy-washy titles that allow the film-makers to go ahead and do what they want with a story and still carry that impact of the truth.
However now we're seeing films about true events being released closer and closer to the events themselves, and in the case of the television film Amanda Knox: Murder on Trial in Italy, we're seeing a story being told in film that is still in active appeal in Italy, in fact Amanda Knox herself goes to an appeal hearing next week.
Films struggle to present an unbiased story as it is, and when film-makers do manage to do that in the short two hours or less that they have, they still can't present all the facts and do have to decide what not to show you and what to concentrate on. That in itself is tailoring the evidence for us, in a court that would definitely be viewed in a negative light, however films are being accepted by people, viewed by massive audiences, and being taken as fact whenever those mystical and haze filled words appear on the screen, "based on a true story".
The Hollywood Reporter has a story about the upcoming Amanda Knox film that has a comment from Candace Dempsey, the author of the novel with the incredibly long title, Murder in Italy: The Shocking Slaying of a British Student, Accused American Girl, and an International Scandal (Amazon.com).
She should actually be thankful of the film which has helped propel her book to the top of the charts once again in America, and she is, but at the same time she's highly critical of the film, pointing out some twenty-seven inaccuracies, and highlights the affect it could have.
"I wouldn't mind the mistakes if the film weren't running during Amanda's appeal. I'd just say, oh, that's Hollywood. But when you brand a movie as 'based on a true story,' then it's highly prejudicial to show Amanda and her boyfriend Raffaele giggling at a prayer vigil for the victim. They weren't even there."
She goes on to say:
"Only idiots base their decisions on TV docudramas, but I've gotten emails from Lifetime viewers who think Amanda is guilty because 'She was giggling after Meredith's death.'"
I agree, and likewise you could tag on after "TV docudramas" "just one point of view" or even "just one book".
In a court case you hear from two sides of the story, defence and prosecution, and from multiple witnesses and all the evidence. You would hope you get all that from a book, but you definitely don't get that from a dramatised film presenting the viewpoints of the writers and director in a short two hours.
Similarly there's a story today from Variety that tells us that Barry Levinson is set to direct a film about the terrible Oklahoma City bombing. The film comes from a script called O.K.C., a script that looks in to the true life events of the bombing through the eyes of a legal clerk on the Timothy McVeigh defense team who does the usual film ploy and risks everything to try and expose a larger conspiracy and tries to reveal the "truth".
That would indeed be the truth of the film script, and to compound the fact the article tells us that the screenwriter, Clay Wold, has based the story around the story of his own brother who was that very legal clerk. Now there's nothing to say what this conspiracy is and if the film is going to try and sell some big conspiracy the U.S. goverment or if there's a conspiracy within the case and Wold is fighting against his client, it isn't clear, but the alarm bells are already ringing.
Wold is presenting his brother's story and it will be sold as the story of the Oklahoma Bombing court case, and how long will it be before people start taking this "based on a true story" film at its word and believing that this is what happened?
Again this is the case of a very one-sided view being presented as fact with just enough evidence to make it real and dramatic, slotted into a two hour window and made up to be as dramatic and scary as possible.
Yet in both these cases people were killed, murdered, and we're being presented with biased and narrowed views of actual events. Of course we shouldn't be taking these at face value at all, we shouldn't believe them, but when they are wrapped up as fact and what actually happened, or they aren't presented any other way, is it any surprise that people do believe them?
What is worse is that the Amanda Knox film is already made and people are yet to have their lives decided on appeal.
Whatever you think of the case you have to agree that you would want a fair court trial and would hope that the jury and those at the trial hadn't seen a two hour television film before sitting down to listen to actual evidence and witness testimony.
"Based on a true story", "Inspired by actual events", shouldn't these messages be clearer, or shouldn't films wait until those in their stories can't be affected by their narrowed, edited, and dramatised views?