Captivated: The Trials of Pamela Smart: Sundance Review

Smart indictment of the media’s sensationalistic influence on the murder trial of Pamela Smart.

In HBO documentary, filmmaker Jeremiah Zagar indicts the media for rabid reporting on a tabloid trial.

Pre-O.J., Pamela Smart was tried for murder in the unprecedented glare of media coverage, undergoing gavel-to-gavel scrutiny. The case oozed with the most titillating of ingredients: A pretty high-school teacher who was having an affair with a student is accused of plotting her husband’s murder.

Captivated is not an attempt to re-try Pamela Smart or posit her guilt or innocence, but rather it indicts the media for its rabid reporting and investigates how the journalistic excesses may have contributed to a guilty verdict.

VIDEO: 10 Moments That Rocked the Sundance Film Festival 

In this full-bodied and thoughtful HBO documentary, filmmaker Jeremiah Zagar zooms in on that tabloid-ish trial. Balancing interviews with trial attorneys, journalists and Smart’s long-time friends, Zagar builds a strong case that the media coverage may have impacted the trial. By flaunting the crime elements -- pretty defendant, sexual taboo and murder -- the media captivated the public with a lurid storyline that people bought into, whether or not the facts jibed with the case.

Most egregiously, the jurors were never completely sequestered and therefore exposed to the shrill, prurient coverage. Clearly, the circus was there when the trial took place in that tiny New Hampshire town.

Not surprising to those of us in this reality-TV age, everyone inserted themselves into the “show” thoughts of TV and movie deals swirled. Indicative of the mindset, the judge envisioned Clint Eastwood playing him in the movie.

This smart HBO documentary convicts the media coverage and trial itself as guilty to Farce in the First Degree.

Production companies: HBO Documentary Films, Hard Working Movies
Director: Jeremiah Zagar
Producer: Lori Cheatle
Director of photography: Naiti Gamez
Music: Zoe Keating
Editor: Keiko Deguchi
No rating, 99 minutes