ATLFF Review: Standing By: THE WITNESS Confronts the Controversial Circumstances of Kitty Genovese’s Murder

Posted on: Apr 7th, 2016 By:
KItty Genovese.

KItty Genovese.

THE WITNESS (2016); DIR. James D. Solomon; Documentary; Atlanta Film Festival; Website here. ATLRetro’s Festival Guide here.

By Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

If you saw a person in need of emergency help, what would you do? Most of us would probably say we’d call 911, but would we really? Those trained in first aid know that the best strategy in an emergency is not to scream for somebody to call for an ambulance, but to choose a specific person and tell them to make the call. Otherwise, maybe nobody calls at all.

You may or may not know the name Kitty Genovese, but you’re certainly familiar with the cultural impact caused by her 1964 death in New York City. Genovese, a 28-year-old bar manager, was murdered on the street, half a block from her home, randomly chosen by a man in the midst of a crime spree. Two weeks after her murder, the New York Times published an article detailing the unsettling circumstances of her death. It’s quite possible that Genovese’s life could have been saved, the story goes, if only the 38 witnesses who watched the attack had bothered to call the police. Although her screams ripped through the neighborhood, although she begged for aid, no help came because no help was called. The tragedy became an example of the ways that New York City—and perhaps even America itself—had lost touch with its values of community and compassion. How could Kitty Genovese bleed to death while her neighbors watched? How could so many witnesses produce no action? The case was a major impetus in the creation and marketing of 911 as a national emergency number, and became a centerpiece of a sociological theory of the “bystander effect,” in which the larger the group of people, the less likely any individual is to act in an emergency, due in part to the belief that surely somebody else will be the one.

The story is so well known, in fact, that one might be forgiven for wondering what, exactly, remains to be explored. THE WITNESS, a new documentary that screened Wednesday at the Atlanta Film Festival, spends its first section failing to make this case for itself. The film introduces Bill Genovese (younger brother to Kitty, and an executive producer on the film) who, after struggling with five decades of emotional trauma, finally decides to track down the 38 witnesses and ask them why they let his sister die. There’s a hint of redundancy around his quest. The news show 20/20 tried the same in the 1970s with poor results, and many of the witnesses, elderly even at the time, have long since passed. If this was all the film had up its sleeve, there would seem to be little reason for it to exist at all. But, as it turns out, THE WITNESS has many, many cards to play.

Bill Genovese

Bill Genovese in THE WITNESS. Used with permission.

Very soon after Bill Genovese begins his quixotic quest, inconsistencies appear. With the sight lines from the apartment building, it wouldn’t be possible for all 38 people to watch Kitty die. Some would have only heard her scream and seen nothing. Only five witnesses were called at trial, so who are the other 33? And what of the woman who raced to Kitty’s side and held her as she died? Why was she absent from the official news story? As the discrepancies pile up, Bill Genovese begins to question the canon, which is no small transition. Genovese, you see, enlisted in Vietnam in the years following his sister’s death, and suffered catastrophic injury, primarily because he refused to be like those people who ignored Kitty, the “silent witnesses” who let tragedy unfold without acting. Was it possible that his choice, and the trajectory of his life, had been based on a lie?

THE WITNESS is an engrossing exploration of the repercussions of trauma. Bill Genovese suffered not only the loss of his sister, but of his own future, and he’s not the only one. Through the careful reveal of information, the film probes how the official story shook the Genovese family, the supposed witnesses, and even the family the murderer, Winston Moseley (who coincidentally died this week in prison, putting the case back into the news), left behind on his way into prison. An astonishing meeting late in the film reveals the fear that the Moseleys have lived with for five decades and reminds us that murders often have more victims than we expect.

10294346_10153376281298424_3819900343571644880_nThe center of the film, however, remains Bill Genovese, who narrates and drives the action as he pieces together the truth, which is not so simple a thing as the ‘facts.’ He doesn’t only want to know what happened, but why, and even how. Confined to a wheelchair due to his war injuries, Genovese is a nonetheless imposing figure as he confronts reporters, lawyers, and even the aging witnesses in an attempt to set the record straight in his mind. (He has a journalist’s tenacity, often asking witnesses if they ever spoke to the police, and then regardless of their answer, revealing that he has their police statement right in front of him.) He is the witness of the film’s title, not present at the event itself, but willing to stand for his sister, to shine light on her vibrant and rich existence (and, in a particularly moving section of the film, her secrets) to reclaim her from the cold register of history and return her, in some way, to life.

If there is a complaint to be found, it’s in the final minutes, in which the filmmakers execute a macabre event that fails to do much more than provide a punchy ending for their film. But this is ultimately a minor complaint in what remains a compelling and complex exploration of the ramifications of “facts.” The Genovese family cannot bring Kitty back, but perhaps it is enough to remind the world that we are not so alone as we thought.

THE WITNESS opens in theaters in New York later this year before rolling out to additional cities. Further information can be found at http://www.thewitness-film.com/ and the filmmakers’ twitter account is @thewitnessfilm.

Andrew Kemp is a screenwriter and game designer who started talking about movies in 1984 and got stuck that way. He can be seen around town wherever there are movies, cheap beer and little else.

Category: Retro Review | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Seventies Slackers, Bikers & Psychedelic Japanese Animation: All That and Much More in Our Retro Guide to the 2016 Atlanta Film Festival

Posted on: Apr 2nd, 2016 By:

10294346_10153376281298424_3819900343571644880_nCinephiles rejoice! Now in its 40th year, the Atlanta Film Festival (ATLFF) is back in bloom from Friday April 1 through Sunday April 10. ATLFF has long been known for a huge line-up of more than 200 diverse and offbeat features, shorts and documentaries from local to international filmmakers, and this year has one of its most exciting line-ups to date with some gems to warm our Retro heart.

Because it can be challenging to wade through such a wide-ranging schedule, we’ve taken the time to sort out some productions that you, our Retro readers, might particularly find of interest including a number of cult and classic revival films screening for free. We’ll also be running social media coverage and reviews of some of our favorites, so be sure to check back. And because we can’t mention everything, be sure also to check out the full festival schedule because there are lots more great films you won’t want to miss.

All screenings below are at the festival HQ at the Plaza Theatre, unless otherwise indicated. 

dazed-and-confused-movie-poster-1993-1010327275 Friday April 1

Opening night brings a red carpet of stars at the Atlanta premiere of THE FUNDAMENTALS OF CARING directed by Rob Burnett and starring Paul Rudd, but we know our readers will be more ready to get back to the 70s with a rare chance to see Richard Linklater‘s hilarious comedy DAZED AND CONFUSED (1993) at 9:30 p.m., followed by Lips Down on Dixie as they present their extremely popular midnight performance of THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (1975). Although a Plaza staple for years, the show gets even better when seen with a festival crowd of fervent movie fanatics.

DudeDesigns_FCB_WEBSaturday April 2

Things get badass crazy with the world premiere of FRANKENSTEIN CREATED BIKERS (2016) at 9:30 p.m., which kicks off the MORPHINE DREAMS horror/weird series. The homegrown 1970s-style neo-exploitation feature promises to be even more over-the-top than its precursor DEAR GOD! NO! (2011) (Read our Retro Review here).  Just about everyone involved with this feature is a dear friend to ATLRetro and lots of the cast and crew will be there, including star Lawrence R. Harvey (HUMAN CENTIPEDE 2 & 3), so we wouldn’t miss it even if we might have to cover our eyes once or twice. Read our Kool Kat of the Week interview with Director James Bickert for a pretaste of the ultraviolent insanity (WARNING: not for everyone!). Just $10 but buy in advance as we betcha it’ll sell out. Facebook event page here.

Gwilliam_Poster_11x17_v03Also on Saturday: Get your bizarro horror fix started early at Noon with THE WOOL shorts segment which includes the award-winning GWILLIAM by Kool Kat Brian Lonano and more of what the ATLFF describes as “other-worldly fibers.” 1979 (do we detect a theme here?) is the setting for GOOD OL’ BOY (12:30 p.m.), about the challenges of assimilating into a new culture for a 10-year-old boy who moves with his Indian family to an American small town and has a crush on the girl-next-door. everybody-wants-some-posterThen EVERYBODY WANTS SOME! (2016), Richard Linklater’s new “spiritual sequel” to DAZED AND CONFUSED set in the world of 1980s college life, screens at 7 p.m. Actors Ryan Guzman, Tyler Hoechlin and Blake Jenner are scheduled to attend. Also at 7 p.m. and free with RSVP at the Hill Auditorium at The HighRUBY IN PARADISE (1993), Ashley Judd‘s film debut as a Florida girl struggling to escape her working class life and achieve her dreams during Pensacola spring break, gets a rare return to the big screen as part of a retrospective of director Victor Nunez‘s career. A PECULIAR NOISE (2015) at 7:30 p.m. (7 Stages), is a sentimental documentary of the DIY underground music scene in the college town that spawned such alt-favorites as The B-52s, R.E.M. and Pylon. Director Jorge Torres-Torres is scheduled to attend.

CcufcVTW8AER7JQSunday April 3

Festivities kick off at noon with a 25th anniversary screening of Southern foodie comedy classic FRIED GREEN TOMATOES (1991) (free with RSVP). If you’re hungry afterwards, for just $20, there’s a Food on Film after-party at the Callanwolde Fine Arts Center from 2-4:30 p.m. CONCERTO, at 5:15 pm (7 Stages), is a documentary about brothers Christopher Rex (Principal Cellist of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra since 1979) and Charles Rex (a first violinist with the New York Philharmonic since 1981) who struggle to overcome a childhood at the hands of a disturbed but brilliant composer father. At 6 p.m., head to the Rialto Center for the Arts to revisit the explosive 1991 Clarence Thomas Supreme Court nomination hearings where Anita Hill accused him of sexual harassment in HBO Films’ docu-drama CONFIRMATION, filmed in Atlanta.

2012110720180322562_artikelThe second installment of the MORPHINE DREAMS series at 7:15 pm at 7 Stages, THE FORBIDDEN WORLD (2015), directed by Guy Maddin and Evan Johnson, is seriously crazed with a side of William Hope Hodgson : “A never-before-seen woodsman mysteriously appears aboard a submarine that’s been trapped deep under water for months with an unstable cargo. As the terrified crew make their way through the corridors of the doomed vessel, they find themselves on a voyage into the origins of their darkest fears.” Then rush back to the Plaza if you like crazy Japanese trippy Weird animated horror for MD#3, Eiichi Yamamoto‘s legendary BELLADONNA OF SADNESS (1973), a real event being that it was previous unreleased in the USA. Based on SATANISM AND WITCHCRAFT by Jules Michelet, young and innocent Jeanne is ravaged by the local lord and makes a pact with the Devil. According to the description: “The Devil appears in phallic forms and, through Jeanne, incites the village into a sexual frenzy. In a new restoration using the original camera negatives, this erotic and psychedelic trip of a film springs to life.”

CHEERLEADER

CHEERLEADER

Monday April 4

Get your dose of bubblegum, side ponytails, ’80s music and revenge in the 7 p.m. world premiere of CHEERLEADER, a witty satire of an all-American pastime.  Director Irving Franco and Producer Nathan Marcus are scheduled to attend. Then at 9:15 p.m., THE FOUNDERS goes back to the 1950s and the 13 women who fought male chauvinism to found the Ladies Pro Golf Association (LPGA). Co-Directors Charlene Fisk and Carrie Schrader, Producer Phoebe Brown and Actor Caleb Messer are scheduled to attend.

HandmadeVol6final_medTuesday April 5

At 7 p.m., the COTTON documentary shorts series at 7 Stages includes HOTEL CLERMONT, about residents of the notorious seedy and recently closed Atlanta landmark (yes, we said landmark), and THE NEW ORLEANS SAZERAC, about the quintessential Big Easy cocktail. Released first in 2005, HANDMADE PUPPET DREAMS (also 7 Stages, 9:15 p.m.) doesn’t date back to the 20th century in itself, but puppetry is a Retro art, right? This handpicked selection of puppet film shorts has received tons of international acclaim and just looks friggin’ cool, plus it’s introduced by Jim Henson‘s daughter Heather Henson. Read our Kool Kat of the Week interview with her here.

Bill Genovese in WITNESS.

Bill Genovese in WITNESS.

Wednesday April 6

At 7 p.m., THE WITNESS reopens the famous Kitty Genovese murder, which 38 witnesses watched from nearby apartments and did nothing. Forty years later, her brother Bill Genovese, who was 16 at the time of his sister’s death, digs into the case and “uncovers a lie that transformed his life, condemned a city, and defined an era.” Bill Genovese, Director James D. Solomon and Producer Melissa Jacobson are scheduled to attend.

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MANOMAN, directed by Simon Cartwright, UK

Thursday April 7

Head to the Center for Puppetry Arts at 7 p.m. for WOOD, a screening of international puppetry shorts, followed by a reception in the Atrium and free entry into the new Worlds of Puppetry Museum featuring the Jim Henson and Global Collections, which includes rare artifacts from Henson-related films such as THE DARK CRYSTAL (1982) and LABYRINTH (1986) and a selfie opportunity with Muppets Kermit and Miss Piggy.

LOA

LOA

Friday April 8

During COPPER, a special presentation by the always intriguing Contraband Cinema at 7 Stages at 7 p.m., see contemporary and classic avant garde and experimental shorts with some of the filmmakers in attendance. At 9:15 p.m. also at 7 Stages, director George Koszulinski and other members of his creative team will be on hand for a screening of the “mystical, experimental” Haitian documentary LOA about the life of the Extanta Aoleé, a local houngan or ‘Vodou man.” And ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW screens again at midnight with Lips Down on Dixie audience participation floor show (see Fri. April 1).

MV5BOTA3Mjg2NDQ3NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjExNTU3NzE@._V1_UY1200_CR73,0,630,1200_AL_Saturday April 9

In HUNKY DORY, at 12:30 p.m., “Sidney—an artist of many things but an extraordinaire of nothing at all—struggles to live up to the expectations of his glam rock dream.” Director Michael Curtis Johnson, Producers Tomas Pais and Jacqueline Johnson and Actor Chad Hartigan (who also directed “closing night feature” MORRIS FROM AMERICA which screens Sat. at 7:30 p.m.) are scheduled to attendAt 2:30, the GOLD documentary shorts series includes SAULTOPAL, in which Atlanta-based artist Susan Cofer invites Georgia-born filmmaker John Henry Summerour (SAHKANAGA) to spend a year documenting Saultopal, an 1100-acre farm in northwest Georgia populated by Longhorn cattle, gigantic rock sculptures and Carl, her husband in his 80th year, and TOURIST about a Vietnam vet revisiting the nation where he once fought.

41cIba3SqsL._SY355_Sunday April 10

The last day of the ATLFF is pretty Retro-kickass, we have to admit. See David Bowie live again on the big screen as the iconic Goblin King in a 30th anniversary screening of LABYRINTH (1986). Then in the much-anticipated MILES AHEAD at 2:45 p.m., Don Cheadle directs and stars as legendary jazz man Miles Davis. Not a full biopic, it centers on the period of five years in the late 1970s when Davis was holed up in his home with chronic hip pain and a fictional encounter with a music reporter which leads to a quest for a stolen tape of his most recent compositions. There’ll also be some Encore screenings yet to be announced, so keep checking the schedule if you miss a screening and/or it sells out.

Of course, these films represent just a tiny portion of the events, shorts, seminars, screenings and receptions/parties taking place. For a complete list, again you need to check out the official Atlanta Film Festival Schedule. And keep an eye on ATLRetro throughout the fest for coverage on all the fun and films. Enjoy this year’s ATLFF, movie lovers!

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