On the 18th of December, Netflix released a series documenting the case of Steven Avery of which the documentary seem to be primarily focused on the corruption of Manitowoc county justice system after Avery was supposedly framed for the death of Teresa Halbach. After watching all 10 episodes in a matter of days, I thoroughly enjoyed the journey of the trial and was enthralled and engaged throughout. However as it drew to the conclusion I began to wonder about the veracity portrayed in the show. This phenomenon which has taken over the internet with millions of fans creating theories of who actually killed Teresa Halbach, or questioning whether Steven did really kill her. Now I don’t intend to create theories or create a new piece of evidence that will unlock the virtues of reality and break new boundaries. My purpose is to discuss the issues of people basing their judgement on documentaries such as this one.
Making a Murderer (2015) creates the question for the audience to decide whether Avery is a murderer or not, it becomes an interactive guessing game that is a topic of discussion that has recently overflowed the inner highways of the internet. However the real question is whether Making a Murderer is really left up to the audience to decide. Even the name of the documentary series creates issues for this, the creators of the series has already concluded that the state county has made a murderer. Documentaries can have this problem of not being able to create a fair and balanced display of fact for the audience. Documentaries cannot be a representation of real life but a mere subjective inversion of the truth created by the filmmakers. This is not a new theory, or some illumination, John Grierson, a pioneer of documentaries in the 1920’a, called them, ‘the creative treatment of actualities.’ (Rotha, 1952: p70) Documentaries have become a representation of reality in the medium of cinema, the presentation of real life. On the contrary, this statement is more complex. The creative influence in documentaries masked the boundaries of reality and fiction. The creator’s control over the film is the primary issue of documentaries presenting reality.
Every time I watch a documentary I always take the presentation of facts with a pinch of salt. This is no different in Making a Murderer. The filmmakers follow the Avery family and predominantly showcase the views of the family. This biased interpretation throughout the trail already sides you with the support of Avery and his defence. Now with a 10 hours running time there is a very little running time given for the opposing view. This has been the show’s main criticism and if you look at multiple mainstream documentaries, this is a constant criticism throughout the genre. Looking further into the trial in the Avery case, certain sections of evidence was not used in the series and apparently important views were not utilised. Now the filmmakers have responded and said they chose the most important evidence in the trial. The evaded evidence seemed to be crucial in the opposition of Avery and this is not too surprising from the biased argument this series results in. This is not a criticism in my opinion as this is what documentaries are used for, not to present reality, but to present a predetermined position.
The arguments put forward are in favour of the defense, the lawyers, the family, the excused juror. I am aware that this documentary is trying to prove the innocence of Steven Avery, but should it ignore vital evidence that counteracts their initial argument. The ethics of this issue has been a longstanding issue throughout documentary. Is documentary just an implicit example of propaganda? We don’t just see this throughout this creative medium, the news on a daily basis, whether in newspapers or television, is full of left and right wing bias. The only way to create fair and balanced judgement is not to solely take this documentary at face value. The presentation of reality in this film is clouded with creative influence and a pre-determined bias. I applaud the filmmakers of making this documentary, Making a Murderer has become a phenomenon. It is a 10 hour journey stretching over 10 years that never fails to keep you entertain, but that is all it is, just entertainment.
Making a Murderer is a triumph in documentary making, to tell a story of a trial through 10 hours of running time and keep people interested is an achievement in itself. However the issue is, that you should not create a judgement just purely on this programme. If this was a story of fiction, there would be no problem, as this would tell the harrowing story of a hero arrested unjustly. But this is a real story involving real lives, to decide whether this man is innocent or not cannot be told to you by one filmmaker or one side of the story. If the audience wants to decide whether or not the Manitowoc county police made a murderer, the audience will have to delve deeper, past the programme and discovers the hidden elements that was not shown. Whatever you have decided on this man’s involvement or lack of, in the murder of Teresa Halbach, the truth will probably never be found or solidified. Documentary is a great medium to entertain but to inform; the motives are more clouded.
By Jason Blight
ROTHA, P., 1952. Documentary Film. London: Faber
Making A Murderer. [Film] 2015. Directed by Laura RICCIARDI and Moira DEMOS. USA: Netflix.