Magazine article Screen International

Nick Broomfield, Tales of the Grim Sleeper

Magazine article Screen International

Nick Broomfield, Tales of the Grim Sleeper

Article excerpt

Nick Broomfield tells Wendy Mitchell why his doc Tales Of The Grim Sleeper is about a whole neighbourhood, not just one killer.

Before Tales of The Grim Sleeper, most people had not heard of alleged serial killer Lonnie Franklin Jr. He is on trial for killing 10 young black women in South Central Los Angeles - but the victims could number in the hundreds over a 25-year period.

The fact Franklin is not a household name does not surprise director Nick Broomfield. "It was almost like a genocide taking place and there was virtually no reporting on it," he says.

This film - which has been shortlisted for the best documentary feature Oscar - changes that situation. The title is reflective of its structure; it is not a straight biography of Franklin, instead it is the portrait of a neighbourhood and people forgotten by the rest of society, giving voices to those around Franklin including his victims, with Broomfield shooting in his usual first-person style.

As a white guy from Britain, Broomfield certainly stands out in the predominantly black neighbourhood, plagued by poverty, crack cocaine and Los Angeles Police Department neglect. "It doesn't just apply to LA, look at Ferguson. It's representative of a widespread attitude, it's a new form of Jim Crow [segregation laws] operating," Broomfield says of the marginalised subjects.

Entry point

A former prostitute and crack addict named Pam Brooks becomes Broomfield's guide into the world of impoverished South Central.

'It was almost like a genocide taking place and there was virtually no reporting on it'Nick Broomfield, film-maker

"She enabled us to be accepted in the community. We needed someone who was from that world. It's like what a fixer might do but more."

To Broomfield's credit he admits Brooks is basically running the production at one point in the film; she is also a hugely compelling force on screen. "Without Pam, it would have been an incredibly different film," the director says. "She's got this Richard Pryor-esque motormouth. She's charismatic and very wise and unbelievably articulate."

During initial filming, Franklin's friends and neighbours mostly stand up for him. But later in the film they start to open up about his darker side. "When you make a film it's like a catalyst, you're asking things they don't normally get asked and it gets the mind going.

"This is the first time they'd been asked these questions, the first time talking about their world and their feelings. …

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