Monday, February 04, 2008

Aruba tragedy and some undercover "documentary" filmmaking


ABC 20/20, on Monday Feb. 4, aired a sensational emergency 90 minute report. “The Final Hours of Natalee Holloway,” which followed the airing on Dutch television Sunday (about the time that the US Super Bowl was taking place) of a documentary film containing an undercover “confession” by Joran van de Sloot regarding the disappearance of Natalee three years ago in Aruba, north of Venezuela in the Caribbean.

The undercover operation was arranged by crime reporter Peter R. de Vries and undercover operator Patrick can der Eem, who arranged the hidden cameras, gained Joran’s “confidence” and got him to make his narration in about thirty minutes of footage that was aired as part of the documentary.

The latest story is that Natalee had some sort of seizure during an intimate encounter, and Joran presumed she was dead and did not call for help and hid the body. It is still unclear under Dutch law whether he committed a crime.

However the tape appears to be very chilling and seems to indicate sociopathy. There is a lack of remorse. Her parents say, he does not know what it is like to have children. But even that would not prevent a person with normal moral compass from seeking assistance in an emergency. So it would sound that he had something to hide.

The ABC report is by Chris Cuomo (who conducted the interviews) and Chris Francescani, and the link is here.

Here, someone was contacted to make a film to conduct an undercover investigation (perhaps vigilante, like NBC's notorious Dateline TCAP series). The interesting question here is, what happens when a “filmmaker” goes out on a project of guerilla journalism and does happen to catch a crime on tape. What is his responsibility, and when is it admissible? This is an issue that could occur with a number of low budget filmmaking projects. There was a controversial case in Pennsylvania a few years ago where a crime occurred while supposedly filming a low budget horror film.

There was a “fact or fiction” docudrama shown in 1998, “The Last Broadcast” about a crime in the New Jersey Pine Barrens when some young people were supposedly looking for the “X Files” Jersey Devil. It was shown at the University of Minnesota in October 1998, but the film would seem to raise similar questions. The style of this film resembled "The Blair Witch Project," (about events in the Catoctin area, near Burkittsville, south of Frederick, MD) also released that year by Artisan. Perhaps there is a risk when a docudrama purports to be fact.

Update: May 2, 2008

A somewhat related similar happened with a British couple traveling in Portugal, and was covered on 20/20 May 2, 2008, "20/20 Exclusive: Inside the McCann Home: One Year After Madeleine Disappeared Parents Distraught About Daughter's Question," by Alan B. Goldberg, Elizabet S. Joseph and Shalini Sharma, link here.

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