“It was important to us to have a very clear understanding of what the audience’s experience would be,” Grover Babcock tells Filmmaker Magazine. “We wanted to play with the energy that the audience would be investing in the story in terms of where the tension was, what their suppositions were, and where they thought they were headed.” Just so, the documentary he co-directed with Blue Hadeigh, Scenes of a Crime leads viewers through a complex and increasingly distressing investigation, less of an original crime—here, the death of an infant—and more of the many “crimes” that follow, as the child’s father Adrian Thomas is put through a barrage of interrogations that lead detectives to believe in his guilt.
The foundation of this increasing distress is precisely the detectives’ process—and the videotape they’ve made of that process. According to Detective Ronald Fountain of the Troy, NY Police Department, “You still have to be able to talk to people, and me and Adam, we work well together. We kind of go with the flow and make things up as we go along.” He and his partner Adam Mason went through this process in the case of Thomas in 2008. At the time, they wanted to know if he killed his four-month-old son Matthew. As the documentary shows, the “flow” in the Thomas interview is increasingly disquieting. From the first moments, the detectives see him as a likely suspect—even before they know a crime has been committed. The defense will end up arguing that Matthew died of an infection, that this was the reason he had trouble breathing. But while his baby is at the hospital, police bring Thomas in, noting that he’s unemployed and must be depressed, that he takes care of seven kids, that he’s “very cold when he talked about his children.” Screening at the Doc Yard on 2 April, this remarkable film represents the many places where crimes can occur in this process—and encourages viewers to consider their own responsibilities in deciphering how such process might be assumed, presented, and interpreted. The film insists that police process—their assumptions and tactics—is crucial in any system of justice, a point also underlined by the currently unfolding Trayvon Martin case in Sanford, Florida.
See PopMatters’ review.