TIFF 2014: Tales of the Grim Sleeper Review

Tales of the Grim Sleeper
TIFF Docs

By now, the Nick Broomfield documentary formula is set in stone. He picks a subject, heads to where it happened with minimal research, shoots everything, and ends up with a movie that is about his discoveries where even the failures are part of the story. Tales of the Grim Sleeper offers exactly that and thankfully it’s a fascinating subject for his delightfully bumbling, handmade techniques. The Grim Sleeper was a serial killer responsible for the death of dozens of African American prostitutes from 1988 to 2002. In 2010, the Los Angeles police suddenly arrested Lonnie David Franklin and declared it a miracle of police work. Broomfield initially sets out with the vague idea of exploring whether or not Franklin was actually the killer, yet ends up learning so much more.

Though the impoverished community where the crimes took place is initially so skeptical of the filmmaker that they shout abuse at him in the street, they soon start to trust him and reveal some unbelievable truths. Whether or not Franklin is responsible for what happened is soon pushed to the background as Broomfield uncovers that the police essentially stumbled onto him by accident and barely paid attention to the crimes at all since the victims were mostly crack addict prostitutes who they didn’t consider worthy of their efforts. It’s a horrifying depiction of corrupt and racist justice system as well as a fascinating look into a tragically ignored community. For once, Broomfield isn’t even really the protagonist of the documentary, with a former prostitute named Pam taking charge of his investigation and proving to be one of those lively, hilarious, introspective, and tragic characters who the filmmaker loves to highlight.

Tales of the Grim Sleeper

As usual Broomfield hits dead ends in his pursuit of truth, but this time they are all related to the disinterested and corrupt local law enforcement, which only proves to deepen the rage and power of the film. At this point, Broomfield has become such an institution that whether or not his latest film is appealing comes down to one’s opinion of the filmmaker himself as much as his movies. In this case, those who like Nick Broomfield joints should be pleased to find not just one of the best docs he’s made in recent years, but quite possibly one of the strongest and most fascinating that he’s ever produced. (Phil Brown)

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Screens

Wednesday, September 10th, 9:30pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 1

Thursday, September 11, 6:30pm, Scotiabank 13

Sunday, September 14, 6:00pm, Bloor Hot Docs Cinema

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Thanks to SPiN TORONTO for sponsoring our TIFF 2014 coverage.

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