The mesmerizing scandal of Amanda Knox, the young American student on trial in Perugia for killing her British roommate, Meredith Kercher, returns in a documentary on Netflix by Rod Blackhurst and Brian McGinn called Amanda Knox. What more could we possibly need to know about this case of media mediated justice? I met the filmmakers on the morning after our American election to talk about their film, and suddenly the Amanda Knox story and the events in Italian courts since 2007 had immediate resonance.
We have a new president today. He is a man who can be in front of cameras, and say the most outrageous things, like challenging President Obama's place of birth, and still be not only a source of media entertainment, but be elected. What does this say about our media, and the public's fascination with it?
Once a narrative is set in place, a murder in Italy, or where President Obama was born, the narrative gets established and perpetuated and it is hard to break the cycle of that narrative. People come to conclusions based on how they feel on either side. In our film there's an important message: Information and facts do matter, and when they are forgotten or replaced by white noise and chatter, bad things can happen. The story of Amanda Knox is a tragedy across the board. The conversation is far away from finding justice for Meredith Kercher's family; all the people caught up in this legal trial have been used. The media got an entertaining trial, that's been entertaining people for a decade.
What is politics but storytelling? Obama in 2008. People think he wasn't doing the same thing that Trump was. He was, selling an inspirational story, a narrative. In America, the way entertainment values have gone, everything now is whether or not you can tell a good story. That used to be true for filmmakers or novelists; now if you are a journalist you have to tell a good story, and that's scary.
It was interesting seeing all the pundits last night because they all seemed like they'd been run over by a truck. They were oblivious to the role they played in this situation. It reminded me of the way people have walked back their opinions on the Amanda Knox case, shifted so suddenly when all the evidence went away. You could say it all with the following sentence: Matt Drudge was called the Walter Cronkite of this generation. When news becomes completely polluted by entertainment values, trading studio gossip, when news becomes about that, it's a great disservice to the public interest. What you see is actually the rise of sharable news, eradicates the idea of focusing on facts and you end up with mush. We saw it in the exit polls last night, and in Brexit. The most visited Google search the next day was, what is the European union? It's low information across the board, in everything in our society. That's a serious problem.
What interested you in the subject of Amanda Knox?
In 2011, the case had been going on for four years. In a film you are looking for a central figure on a journey. Here is the reverse: you have this girl on a roller coaster ride; it was really about all of us focused on this one person. The entire world was split on this story. When we dug into it, Facebook and Twitter were coming up at the same time that traditional media was losing funding. The need to pump out stories immediately reached a fever pitch. Nick Pisa, the Daily Mail journalist in the film is a tabloid journalist, but people misrepresent him. He was fundamental to crafting the entire narrative that the world was focused on. In Nick Pisa's crafting that story, we saw how his version was morphed by the mainstream media, and tabloid-ized, and there were very few people minding that. We found that fascinating.
Do you mean when they thought the murder was an orgy gone awry, that the dead girl simply refused to have sex with them?
Yes, they were looking for evidence that supports that, what they already believe. They were not looking for another alternative; they cherry picked the facts to support a certain conclusion, and stayed on that course.
At what point did you know you had the film?
We said we'd only have a film if we could speak from both sides courtroom. After the Italian Supreme Court came to their conclusion in spring 2015, Guiliano Mignini, the prosecutor spoke about his version of the truth. Then we got access to the Italian Supreme Court archives -which was even more important.--photos, recordings, --we could contextualize what people were talking about in retrospect. Say the iconic image of Amanda and Raffaele embracing, and Mignini interpreting that as inappropriate behavior. Amanda said she was seeking comfort because of what she found in her house, the dead girl. Seeing the wider shots put that footage into context; you see the house, the crime scene, police everywhere, Amanda and Raffaele isolated-- all help people to paint a bigger picture, to see the scene as a whole.
Interviewing subjects against a blank wall was very effective. What made you think of that strategy?
We had the idea to have people on a level playing field, not trapped in their office. The story became looking into people's eyes and noticing their movement. We also found moments when people were not talking compelling.
In what ways did your discoveries about the ways the media controlled the Amanda Knox story provide insight into the American election?
We were making the film while the election process was unfolding. Female sexuality seemed to be on trial, the way Amanda was attacked for misbehaving, for having had multiple sexual partners, and the language used, like "she-devil," was shocking in the modern era. The treatment of Amanda was a lot like the way people were engaging with Hillary Clinton, assessing her behavior. If she was too competent, she was robotic and cold; if she was too soft and warm, she was unstable and emotional and incapable of being a leader. People come to conclusions because of emotions rather than looking for the facts. This was a strange journey for us as filmmakers.
A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.