Magazine article Screen International

'OJ: Made in America' Director on the Politics Behind His Epic Historical Doc

Magazine article Screen International

'OJ: Made in America' Director on the Politics Behind His Epic Historical Doc

Article excerpt

Some have questioned whether Ezra Edelman's epic seven-hour, 44-minute documentary OJ: Made In America, tying the rise and fall of American football star-turned-Hollywood actor OJ Simpson to racial politics in Los Angeles, can be truly regarded as a feature-length film.

Its recent inclusion in the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences 2017 documentary shortlist and triumph at the International Documentary Association awards suggests the film world has embraced it as such.

For Edelman, it is a question of semantics: "I don't look at this as a series. It's a long film... One of the things that drew me to the project was the notion of telling a longer story in one film."

When Connor Schell, head of film and original content at sports-skewed channel ESPN, first proposed the idea of making a long-length work revolving around Simpson, the New York-based film-maker nearly turned him down. "I wasn't interested in Simpson and I wasn't sure what I could add to what had been done before," says Edelman, who had worked with Schell as a director on ESPN's award-winning documentary series 30 For 30, highlighting important sports people and events throughout history.

It was only when he looked into Simpson's story in more depth and put it into the wider social, political and cultural context of the times that he started to get excited about the project. "It's a uniquely defining cultural tale that involves so much stuff," he says. "Alongside being offered this greater canvas and the formal challenge of making a movie that long, that was the selling point."

Simpson's fall from grace - following the double-murder of his wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman in 1994, the subsequent televised criminal trial in 1995 and its sensational verdict judging him innocent - is at the heart of the film but Edelman's portrait of the star and his legacy goes way beyond that event. It also explores the stellar sports career that propelled Simpson out of an impoverished San Francisco neighbourhood to the elite University of Southern California in the mid-1960s, and then onto a record-breaking stint with National Football League team the Buffalo Bills. The series also follows Simpson's life of celebrity amid Los Angeles' mainly white establishment of the time, as well as his darker behind-the-scenes-persona.

Famous for being infamous

"Nobody even remembers who OJ was," says Edelman. …

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