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DOC NYC 2017: A Murder in Mansfield & Sky and Ground

November 13, 2017

docnyc2017

 

DOC NYC is a film festival in New York City that started seven years ago, focusing exclusively on current documentaries from all over the world. By 2014 it would become known as America’s largest documentary film festival, meaning there are others across the nation that take the same approach, but none are quite as ambitious as this one. The eighth edition of DOC NYC kicked off on November 9th and runs through the 16th and will include appearances from filmmakers, special guests and include over 250 films and events. While many of the documentaries have already appeared at other film festivals within the past year or so, there are 23 world premieres and 23 U.S. premieres scheduled – that alone finds this to be a fascinating and enticing film festival. 

I may not live in New York City, nor am I there to experience this festival firsthand, but I’ve been fortunate enough to have seen a couple of the films that are receiving “world premieres” there. One of them is “A Murder in Mansfield”, the latest from veteran award-winning documentarian Barbara Kopple (“Harlan County, U.S. A.” and “Miss Sharon Jones!”) and the other is “Sky and Ground”, a documentary from Syria which takes a personal look at the current refugee plight in Aleppo. Below are my thoughts on both of documentaries….

 

A MURDER IN MANSFIELD

directed by: Barbara Kopple
USA/88 min.

Watching Barbara Kopple’s “A Murder in Mansfield”, I couldn’t help but think of the immense trauma and grief that plagues so many children and adults who witnessed or endured a parent being murdered. Their lives are changed forever. Worse still is when their parent is murdered by their other parent. Such a horrible tragedy happened to Collier Landry when he was 11 years-old, when he overheard his father, Dr. John Boyle (a prominent osteopath), kill his mother Noreen Boyle, in their Mansfield, Ohio home. It was all over the local news back then, especially when young Collier gave a videotaped testimony in court detailing his father’s abusive behavior toward him and the incriminating events of that fateful evening when his mother was killed and then buried underneath the family’s basement.

The significance and allure of Kopple’s film is that it follows Collier today at age 38 – someone who was adopted by a kind and supportive family after Noreen’s murder, who embraced the arts and his outgoing nature to become a cinematographer and directer working in Los Angeles. He’s interested about how trauma shapes people’s lives and how it effects a community. Landry serves as an executive producer on the documentary, as Kopple follows him back to a wintry Mansfield, where he steps back into his childhood, visiting the family that now lives in the home where his mother was killed, the detective and his wife who befriended him and the family who adopted him. For the first time, we see him look at the case file of his mother’s murder and the images of her body being pulled from the basement floor. It’s heartbreaking and unsettling, but what’s impressive and commendable is how Collier is determined to find some kind of hope or closure in al this.

As a boy, Collier had written his father in jail multiple times and sometimes he’d receive a letter in response, but there was never a time when John Boyle had admitted to his son that he killed his mother. The film concludes with Collier’s endgame – sitting down with his father in an Ohio prison and confronting him on the events of that fateful night and finally getting him to admit what he did. It’s a powerful moment that left me wondering whether or not I could do what Collier was doing as well as the countless amount of adults who’ve grown up with their parent’s murderer incarcerated and how and if they’ve managed to move on each year.

There are elements of the case and Collier’s family revealed that elicited some questions. Like did John Boyle take a jackhammer to the basement floor before or after he killed his wife and what become of Collier’s adopted sister, who was in their parents bed when the murder occurred and allegedly witnessed the murder at age 3. However, neither of these lingering questions take away from Kopple’s film. Combining footage of the trial, video clips of Collier as a child as well as photos of him with his mother, with the footage of following Collier in the present, Kopple produces a compelling documentary that essentially touches on the different levels of resilience and forgiveness.

In Attendance: director/producer Barbara Kopple, producers David Cassidy, Ray Nowosielski; editor Rob Kuhns, post production supervisor Michelle Purpura, and associate producer Christy Lamberjack

RATING: ***

Showtimes: Sunday, November 12th at 7:45pm

 

SKY AND ABOVE 

directed by: Talya Tibbon and Joshua Bennett
Syria/86 minutes

Would you walk from Greece to Germany for a better life, even if your chances of making it without being caught and sent back to refugee camp were very high? It’s similar to walking from Miami to Toronto.  If the likeliness of failure was strong, would you continue again and again? The Nabi family would and “Sky and Ground” chronicles their attempts at such a journey as directors Talya Tibbon and Joshua Bennett follow the family for 3 months, as they depart from the Idomeni refugee camp in Thessaloniki, Greece through the Balkans and eventually Berlin. There are several setbacks and challenges, but there is also a commendable display of determination and resilience within the large Syrian-Kurdish family as they seek to reunite with other family members and pursue asylum.

At each border there are refugee camps the family can stay at, but if they don’t have enough money to pay off the police, they’ll get sent back to Idomeni – like a cruel unfortunate move on a board game. Along the way, they must make sure they have enough food and water, endure injuries and maintain hope. Some family members are optimistic, while others feel the opposite, like when we hear the grandmother state how she’d rather “have bombs drop every day than go through this torment”. Such a response is understandable considering the arduous and dangerous journey the family is on.

There have been many documentaries about Syrian refugees and their war-torn home of Aleppo in recent years. They need to be made. The rest of the world needs to see the different perspectives of a people who have no choice but to flee their homes in hopes of a better life, or at least to prevent living in fear of bombs dropping on them from above. They may make the news and find themselves in the media, but filmmakers have thankfully been humanizing who these refugees are and why their stories are more important than political talk points and news blurbs. “Sky and Ground” is an immersive experience at a harrowing journey, offering an appreciation and understanding for one of many families that simply want a safe and prosperous future.

In Attendance: directors/producers Talya Tibbon and Joshua Bennett, Maro Chermayeff and Jeff Dupre

RATING: ***

Showtimes: Sunday, November 12th at 6:45pm (SVA Theatre) & Thursday, November 16th at 10:15 AM (IFC Center)

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