Convict free after Bikel’s latest doc

Frontline knows how to shake things up in North Carolina. Last week, less than a month after the series aired Ofra Bikel's 90-minute documentary "An Ordinary Crime," about 21-year-old Terence Garner, a state court granted Garner's motion for a new trial. He posted bond and went home with his mother and family for the first time in more than four years. Garner had been serving a sentence of 32-43 years for robbery and attempted murder—the "ordinary crime" he insisted all along he had no part of. Bikel—whose award-winning trilogy "Innocence Lost" led the state to drop charges in 1997 in a major child abuse case in Edenton, N.C.—again turned the spotlight on criminal justice in the state. Continue Reading

For subjects, documentary is “strong form of family therapy”

Various people tried to prepare Juanita Buschkoetter for the public reaction to The Farmer's Wife, filmmaker David Sutherland's cinema verite depiction of the real-life struggle to keep her husband's farm and their marriage afloat, but the reponse to the show's debut this fall was far beyond her expectations. "I had no idea how many people would actually watch it," she said in a recent interview--let alone the folks who would go far out of their way to drive by the Buschkoetter house, or send the family generous gifts. "Since the film, people come by to take pictures, pull in and talk," Buschkoetter added. It's gotten so she doesn't want to leave her three daughters at home alone anymore. Since the eldest is now 12, she previously had found it safe to do so. Continue Reading

‘Something was very wrong’

Four days before the May 27 airing of "Innocence Lost: The Plea," Frontline's third documentary on the Little Rascals child-abuse case in Edenton, N.C., the prosecutor announced she was dropping all remaining charges in the long and troubling legal action. For producer-director Ofra Bikel and her colleagues at Frontline, the decision brought a rare sense of gratification. Over the past seven years, Bikel's persistent scrutiny of a prosecution she had come to believe was unjust has made a big difference in many people's lives. Whether the effect has been for the better or the worse depends on how close you live to Edenton, and which side of the Little Rascals case you want to believe. "It's not very often that a television program can set people free," commented David Fanning, Frontline's senior executive producer. Continue Reading

Frontline: an ‘essential’ mechanism for telling serious stories

Frontline sometimes comes on like a multimedia prosecutor, revealing the evidence in pictures, voices and logic, and driving toward a conclusion. It's usually a very sobering conclusion, too, because the series has increasingly specialized in reminding us of our society's worst failings — war, cheating and lying in high places, racism, crime and predation of all kinds. On Nov. 5, [1991], Charles Stuart's "Don King, Unauthorized" went after the boxing promoter — a man with two killings in his little-known past, who has collaborated with the media to paint himself as a harmless jokester with a funny haircut. On Nov. Continue Reading