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For the new documentary Amanda Knox, Netflix has cut two diametrically opposed trailers (see below.) One is titled Believe Her. The other is called Suspect Her. For while the case at the center of the film may be nearly 10 years old, but it remains something of a hot-button Rorschach test.
True crime tales don’t come much more lurid than that of Meredith Kercher, the British student who was brutally murdered in Peruga, Italy, on Nov. 1, 2007. Her roommate, Amanda Knox, an American student spending the year abroad, and Knox’s Italian boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, were arrested and convicted of the murder, only to have their convictions overturned in 2011 after they’d spent nearly four years in prison. Tried again in 2014, they were once again found guilty, then finally exonerated by the Italian Supreme Court in 2015. Throughout the serpentine court proceedings, the case commanded international headlines, especially in the British tabloids, who dubbed Knox “Foxy Knoxy.”
But despite the blanket of media that had covered the story, filmmakers Rod Blackhurst and Brian McGinn were convinced there was more to discover when they began exploring making a documentary in 2011. “People weren’t looking past the headlines to understand what had happened. They had developed these passionate ideas of who these people were, but nobody seemed any closer to figuring out what had really happened despite the global media scrutiny,” says Blackhurst. McGinn adds that the previous coverage “had really been led by the new click-bait journalism. We felt there was a place for the personal, human side of the story — to actually hear from the people involved.”
Their persistence paid off, and five years later, their documentary feature Amanda Knox will have its world premiere Sept. 9 at the Toronto Film Festival. It arrives on Netflix, which acquired the film once it was well underway, on Sept. 30.
Although the longtime friends — Blackhurst, 35, directed the 2016 horror thriller Here Alone, while McGinn, 31, has been working on the Netflix series Chef’s Table — first approached Knox, now 29, in 2011, she didn’t agree to sit for the first of three interviews until 2013 when it became clear that a second trial would take place. “The way it progressed,” says McGinn, “people agreed to participate in the film according to when they felt their side of the story was not being heard.” Ultimately, they secured on-camera sessions with Knox; Sollecito; Nick Pisa, a British tabloid journalist who’d often led the breaking story; and Perugia prosecutor Giuliano Mignini, who whipped up the argument for Knox’s guilt and who agreed to speak only once Knox’s second conviction was overturned.
Unlike many of the other journalists who interviewed Knox or Mignini during the course of the case, the two filmmakers made it clear from the start they were not approaching the story with an agenda of their own and that the interviews would not be confrontational. Says McGinn, “It was important to form some sort of connection. We were a couple of young guys from the states. We had not experienced anything like what Amanda had gone through or, for that matter, what Magnini had gone through. Our goal was to let Amanda, Mignini, Sollecito and Pisa drive the conversation and reveal things about themselves. With that in mind, it was very different than the goal of an ABC news program with Diane Sawyer or a lot of the other public appearances Amanda had made where it was really considered a forum to discuss ‘Did you do it?’ or ‘Did you not?’ That was really never the way we came at the story.”
The filmmakers photographed their subjects sitting center-screen, talking directly to the camera, in a style reminiscent of Errol Morris’ groundbreaking documentaries. “There had been a lot of circumstantial thoughts and feelings, this aura that had been created around each of these people,” says Blackhurst. “We thought if we could center them in the middle of the frame, have them speak directly, making eye contact, to you, the audience, we could strip away a lot of that noise that might influence how you felt about them.”
The doc has other film references as well. When it first cuts to the Italian countryside, the music cue is the song “Tu Vuo Fa L’Americano,” which Anthony Minghella also used in his 1999 The Talented Mr. Ripley, another film in which an American abroad gets caught up in murder. “There a few nods to other films in the movie. We’re certainly a big fan of that film,” says McGinn. Adds Blackhurst, “We’re hoping too that there is a little bit of our love for David Fincher’s films that comes across in some of the stylized visual moments in the movie.”
One of the themes that emerged as they assembled the movie, McGinn says, was “a recognition of the way our society commodifies tragedy.” Adds Blackhurst: “What we found, editing the movie, is people make judgments based on how they feel and not on what actually is. [That] influences how stories are told in the news and on social media. Living with this story for so long, and living with the changes that happened to these people in the case, allowed us to find that and end up with a conversation that is bigger than this story itself.”
Although the film ultimately makes the case for her innocence, Knox herself is under no illusions when she faces the camera and says in the film’s opening moments, “If I’m guilty, it means I am the ultimate figure to fear. On the other hand, if I’m innocent, it means everyone’s vulnerable. And it’s everyone’s nightmare.”
Watch the two trailers below.
This story first appeared in the Sept. 16 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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