The inhumanity of people toward each other was on full display at the first Toronto True Crime Film Festival, but so was the power of surviving unthinkable ordeals. The festival was held June 8–9, 2018 at The Royal Cinema and Monarch Tavern in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and the inaugural lineup included five film screenings and three symposium events. Following are reviews of three of the features and one of the shorts screened at the fest.
Abducted in Plain Sight is an absolutely jaw-dropping look at the two kidnappings of a young girl by a family friend, the often bizarre circumstances surrounding them, and the powerful survivor story behind them. From the initial gullibility of the parents to the disturbing brainwashing by way of extraterrestrial alien stories and beyond, this documentary is fascinating throughout.
In October 1974, 12-year-old Jan Broberg was an outgoing, lively girl who was part of a churchgoing family in Idaho. When the family’s well-liked neighbor and friend Robert “B” Berchtold asked Jan’s mother Mary Ann if he could take the youngster on a quick after-school trip to see some horses, it was the beginning of a nightmare — or so it may first seem to viewers. We soon find out that Berchtold was an evil manipulator who had already started tearing the Brobergs apart before the abduction, without any of them yet knowing it.
The gullibility on the part of the parents mentioned earlier becomes both more understandable and more heartbreaking as director Skye Borgman slowly reveals backstory about why Bob and Mary Ann Broberg were slow to contact authorities, and reluctant to take action against Berchtold. Another factor in that frustrating lack of action is that when these kidnappings took place, child abduction and sexually predatory behavior were not yet as easily recognized nor in the public consciousness as much as they would be just a few years later.
Borgman uses fresh interviews, recreated scenes with a Super-8mm feel, a wealth of family photographs, unsettling audio tapes recorded by Berchtold, and other media to bring Abducted in Plain Sight to vivid, gripping life. Those who find “truth is stranger than fiction” stories fascinating will find plenty to chew on with this outstanding effort.
Danish documentary The Stranger puts an original spin on its look at a deceitful man and his crimes by having people actually involved in the cases act in recreated scenes, as well as being interviewed. Amanda Kastrup is a single mother who, through a series of incidents beginning with a Facebook query that leads to a matchmaking setup, meets a man named Casper Kastrup from the wealthy Augustinos family.
The two fall into a whirlwind courtship, despite Amanda receiving Facebook and text messages from Casper’s friends and young daughter asking about her intentions. After Casper buys a house for Amanda, her daughter, and him, things quickly take a downhill turn as it becomes evident that Casper is not who he says he is.
Esben Dalgaard Andersen portrays Casper, but Amanda and most of the other participants appear as themselves. Director Nicole Nielsen Horanyi weaves in and out of re-creations and reality, sometimes stopping a scene to ask questions for which the participants sometimes still don’t have answers. The Stranger should be required viewing for those who wonder how people can be hoodwinked. It is an engaging documentary with a clever approach that holds up throughout its running time.
Rezo Gigineishvili’s Georgian/Russian/Polish film Hostages is a dramatization of an attempted Aeroflot hijacking in 1983 by a group of friends in their twenties who were mostly artists or physicians. Although their families were better off than many others during this time in Soviet Georgia, the friends hoped to divert the plane to Turkey in a bid for freer lives.
Hostages takes a rather distanced approach to the group of friends, making the feeling toward them more clinical and observational than emotionally invested. The focus feels more on the story than the participants, though the main cast and supporting actors all do a fine job. Gigineishvili’s direction is solid in this recounting of a hijacking that is still controversial in Georgia.
One of the shorts that screened at the festival was writer/director Jill Gevargizian’s 42 Counts, a suspenseful film with horror elements, made even more disturbing because it is based on a true story. Gevargizian teams up again with her The Stylist star Najarra Townsend, who here plays Alicia, a young woman hanging out at her friend Ava’s (Andrea Dover) home, which she rents from their boss (Sam Williamson). When Alicia happens to notice something unusual about a smoke detector, the pair explore the loft for more clues, uncovering a shocking, terrifying secret.
Gevargizian is an accomplished director, and that shows in every frame of 42 Counts. From the steady building of suspense to the brilliant color palette and framing, her helming work is superb. Townsend and Dover give adept performances, portraying the confusion and fear of their characters in a manner that fully supports the traumatic ordeal of their characters.