If the lineup of the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, held earlier this winter in Park City, Utah, is any indication, true crime is hotter than ever.
The program was filled to the brim, not just with ripped-from-the-headlines features about well-known cases like the murder of Danish journalist Kim Wall and accusations of sexual misconduct against music mogul Russell Simmons –– but also with films that shined a light on stories that got less attention, like the two women accused of murdering Kim Jong-nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader.
Here’s what to keep your eye out for later this year both in theaters and for your next binge-watching session.
This stranger-than-fiction documentary looks at the case of two young women who were accused of assassinating Kim Jong-nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in 2017 by rubbing VX nerve agent on his face in the Kuala Lumpur airport. Upon their arrest, Siti Aishah, from Indonesia, and Doan Thi Huong, of Vietnam, said they thought they were participating in a prank video. Were the women cold-blooded killers or were they unwitting participants in a larger scheme? The film was acquired by Magnolia for theatrical release later this year.
Into the Deep
Australian filmmaker Emma Sullivan was already working on a documentary project about inventor Peter Madsen’s amateur rocket lab in Copenhagen when he murdered and dismembered Swedish journalist Kim Wall aboard a submarine in 2017, and was in a unique position to continue interviewing the young interns and volunteers that venerated him as a creative mind and then realized he was a psychopathic killer. Sullivan had hours of interviews with Madsen, with many deeply chilling moments and other footage that was later used in court to help convict him. “Into the Deep” doesn’t focus on Wall as a person — viewers learn little about her — but it explore the less-tread ground of the other people in a murderer’s life who are traumatized by association. A debut date has not been set by Netflix.
This two-part documentary was a special event at Sundance presented by ESPN. It’s a fascinating look at Lance Armstrong that stretches back to his childhood and looks at all he did to elevate –– and ultimately greatly damage –– a sport he loved. The complicated athlete is fascinating to try and figure out as he seems at times contrite, thoughtful, pompous and manipulative as he grapples with the damage he left in his wake with repeated lies during cycling’s doping scandal. The documentary is set to be released later this fall on ESPN.
The first three episodes of this six-part docu-series that explores the McDonald’s Monopoly Game fraud aired as a special event presented by HBO. Viewers meet a colorful cast of characters, the standouts being hammy FBI Special Agent Doug Mathews and former “mob wife” Robin Gennaro, and the series has the dramatic tension of an investigation unfolding — just one involving a game and fake video shoots. Currently airing on HBO, Monday nights at 10 p.m ET.
The Mole Agent
A heart-warming spy documentary? This Chilean documentary, which follows 83-year-old widower Sergio Chamy as he goes undercover to find out if there’s abuse within a nursing home, is certainly that. The playful noir tone, as well as the fact Sergio hasn’t quite nailed spy technology, nor the intricacies of being a subtle investigator, are sources of humor. But the charming Sergio — so beloved by the ladies in the nursing home that he’s crowned king during a party — unearths touching questions about filial duty, friendship and loneliness. The film is currently seeking U.S. distribution.
On the Record
This documentary, which explores music producer Drew Dixon’s decision to come forward to the New York Times with rape allegations against music mogul Russell Simmons, had plenty of pre-festival controversy because Oprah Winfrey removed herself as an executive producer and the film lost its distribution deal with Apple TV+. HBO Max has since picked up the film, made by documentarians Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering, who have previously made films about sexual assault in the military and on college campuses. The film itself examines Dixon’s decision, as well as other women who accused Simmons of violence and sexual misconduct (Simmons maintains his innocence and has not been charged with a crime), and examines the implications of the #MeToo movement for women of color.
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