Saturday, 27 October 2012

LFF: The Central Park Five Review

Directors/Writers: Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, David McMahon

Starring: Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana Jr, Kharey Wise, Yusef Salaam, Antron McCray, Jim Dwyer

Synopsis: A documentary exploring the “Central Park jogger” case about the rape and assault of a young woman supposedly by five young boys. Focusing mainly on the mistakes made in the case and the false accusations against each boy.

In 1989 the “Central Park Jogger” case was one of the biggest news stories in America. It overshadowed any other crime cases (as mentioned by some of the interviewees) and took weeks of interrogation until 5 innocent boys were charged with the crime. In 2002 a convicted serial rapist, Matias Reyes, spoke to one of the convicts in prison and vowed to vacate the 5 boys’ (now men) convictions by confessing to the crime. It is an interesting and long-spanning chain of events that makes this documentary very insightful.

The three filmmakers get interviews with each of the 5 sentenced men and, one by one, recall and analyse the poor validity of their conviction. The only member of the Central Park Five we don’t see is Antron McCray who preferred not to be filmed; the rest of the group are graciously given plenty of screen time. They are an interesting bunch of personalities, all matured by their traumatic experience in their mid-teens, who garner a great deal of empathy.

It is a very scrutinising look at this historic case and kudos to Ken and Sarah Burns and David McMahon for compiling extraordinary research and material (photographic, print or film). Anyone unaware of this event are given detailed descriptions of what was thought to have happened and what actually did. The alternating sides of the story – news footage from 1989 and 1990 countered with testimonies from today – generate a fantastic diagram of right and wrong. The impetus of this documentary is to highlight the intermittent unjust procedure of law, which is does to fine effect. You can often see the Central Park Five welling up in tapes from back then and from today, making you very aware of their unwarranted punishment.

Incidents like this happen all-too-often; Central Park Five vindicates the in depth analysis of a case rather than the mob-culture uproar that leads to hasty and tawdry investigations. The directors do not just focus on the boys’ discriminatory treatment from the police, but the entire New York state (branching out to the entire country and beyond at points). It serves to reflect the frightening sensationalist aspect of some crimes, and the shocking aftermath.
It is overwhelmingly exhaustive in its aim to educate you on this infamous story (albeit, running slightly too long in sections). The fear that this can happen is made intensely aware by the statement: “Confessions will trump DNA; confessions will change witnesses’ testimony; confessions are irresistibly persuasive and almost the effects can’t be reversed.” The spoken word is a powerful tool in any means of life and whether or not it’s truthful, it can have a striking effect. Central Park Five implores you to think before you judge as under the surface of this trial in 1989/90 were five scared young boys who had done nothing wrong. It is a timeless piece of filmmaking that would serve as a great argument for cases similar to this.

By Piers McCarthy. Also posted on LiveForFilms

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