The Central Park Five

Pruitt Igoe Myth

As cable news has been wallowing in shortsightedness and ahistorical thinking in its coverage of the Ferguson grand jury verdict and ensuing protests, the smarter corners of the internet have provided a bevy of useful resources, syllabi, polemics, and essays that have explained, at length and in great context, why the lack of accountability for the killing of a young, unarmed African-American male at the hands of a white police officer warrants passionate demonstrations nationwide. Such tools have been essential for attempting to explain to skeptical ears how institutional racism continues to exercise a disproportionate (and sometimes lethal) affect on the lives of young black men, and how various extensions of state power – namely, police officers – are rarely held accountable for their abuses of said power, which perpetuates a culture of policing that serves the lives of some at the expense of others. The cases of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Darrien Hunt and John Crawford are all part of the same elephant in the room that we collectively refuse to acknowledge: a social poison that continues to motivate irrational but deep-rooted fear of black bodies and justify the violence continually leveled against them. But, as many of the above resources explain, the history that undergirds the present moment runs deep. This history is fully available – not only in written form, but also in many a moving image. Several indispensible non-fiction films have framed histories that echo or have direct bearing on this moment.

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discs central park

Welcome back to This Week In Discs! As always, if you see something you like, click on the image to buy it. The Central Park Five The term “crime of the century” is an overused one, and one of the more infamous examples of its application came in 1989 when a white, female jogger in NYC’s Central Park was sexually assaulted and left for dead. The culprits were identified as five black teens who were tried and convicted both in the courtroom and the court of public opinion. The boys were sentenced and served out their time, but they were relieved and the world were surprised in 2002 when the real culprit confessed. PBS golden boy Ken Burns co-directs this sad, shocking and infuriating doc that explores the case from the perspective of both the boys and the truth. Over eager police and prosecutors combined with a racially divided public led to a terrible miscarriage of justice. The film acknowledges that the blame lay equally with the authorities, the press and at times, the boys’ parents too. The NYC of more than twenty years ago seems almost unrecognizable to the city of today, but the facts speak for themselves. If only there had been someone to listen back in 1989. [DVD extras: Featurettes]

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The Central Park Five

Editor’s note: The Central Park Five begins a limited roll-out today, so here is a re-run of our Cannes Film Festival review, originally published on May 27, 2012. The Cannes official selection usually includes a couple of interesting documentaries to cleanse the pallet of all the high-art and fiction, and this feature-length portrait of the infamous New York rape case certainly offered something more for those film fans who like to get their factual kicks, from director/producer trio Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, and David McMahon. For those whose who are not familiar with the film’s story, The Central Park Five case chronicles the 1989 rape of a white female jogger, who was discovered badly beaten and barely alive in Central Park. Five black and Latino youths from Harlem, just 14 to 16 years old, were subsequently taken in for questioning, and under coercion and pressurized circumstances confessed separately (or implicated one another) to their involvement in the beating and rape. Their confessions were contradictory, and certain details of the evidence didn’t corroborate their guilt, but the five were charged and sent to prison regardless, serving between 6 and 13 years for a crime they maintained never to have committed.

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Kicking off this week with its Opening Night Gala for Hitchcock, Hollywood’s own AFI FEST effectively wraps up the year’s film festival-going season (a season that lasts approximately eleven months). Such calendar placement means that AFI FEST comes late enough in the year to serve as a last hurrah for titles that have been playing the festival circuit as far back as January (at Sundance) or as far away as France, Berlin, and Venice, and is the perfect opportunity for Southern California-based film geeks (or those willing to put some miles on their passport) to catch up on films they’ve been anticipating for months. Of course, of the 136 films playing at this year’s festival, we’ve managed to catch nearly a fifth of them at other fests, and we’re quite pleased to use this opportunity to remind you as such. Confused over what to see at the festival? Be confused no more! After the break, jog your memories of our always-extensive festival coverage with reviews for twenty-eight films set to play at this week’s AFI FEST that we’ve already seen (and, you know, reviewed). It’s like getting your festival coverage whole days early!

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The Central Park Five Trailer

The form and aesthetic of Ken Burns’ documentary work has become so well-known and so well-defined at this point that there are probably people out there working in the audiovisual arts who know how to use the “Ken Burns effect,” but have no idea where the term came from. From the breakthrough doc, Brooklyn Bridge, that launched his career, to his big documentary series that defined it, like The Civil War and Baseball, Burns has continuously proven himself to be an icon of the documentary filmmaking game. So when a new trailer for one of his movies comes out, you pretty much know what to expect. The only real questions are going to be, “What’s this one about? What new subject is he going to be poring over archival documents to research?” This time around Burns has made a film (alongside co-directors Sarah Burns and David McMahon) called The Central Park Five, which details the conviction and incarceration of five teenagers who were wrongly accused of committing a rape in Central Park back in 1989.

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The Queen of Versailles

As October slowly winds to a close, the air turns crisper, the leaves go red(der?), and the mailboxes of film critics everywhere find themselves stuffed quite fuller, as we enter into (drum roll, please), Official Awards Season. As we approach the bevy of awards shows and spectacles, it’s time to start rolling out the first wave of big-time nominations. Today, that wave includes documentaries. The 28th International Documentary Association Awards have today announced their five nominations for their Feature category, and there are certainly some recognizable names among the picks. Most notably, Lauren Greenfield’s The Queen of Versailles, Malik Bendjelloul’s Searching for Sugar Man, and Kirby Dick’s The Invisible War all made the cut, joined by Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, and David McMahon’s The Central Park Five and Peter Gerdehag’s Women With Cows. Versailles and Sugar Man have both consistently played on the festival circuit this past year, and Invisible War has frequently been discussed when it comes to awards consideration (though our own Chris Campbell presupposes that Sugar Man is an Oscar lock). But who should win? Who is worthy of such love? Fortunately for all of you dear readers, we’ve reviewed three of the five nominated docs (can’t win ‘em all), so get familiar with our opinions after the break.

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published: 12.19.2014
A-
published: 12.18.2014
C-
published: 12.17.2014
B+
published: 12.15.2014
B


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