1. CAPTURING THE FRIEDMANS (2003).
In Great Neck, New York, an investigation is started into Arnold Friedman’s life after a parcel is intercepted from the Netherlands, the contents of which comprise a magazine containing child pornography. The resulting investigation shocks a nation, especially the folks of this peaceful community on Long Island.
The first of two highly rated documentaries by Andrew Jarecki on this list, Capturing the Friedmans, which started simply as a short film about child entertainers in New York, gives a glimpse into life behind a neighbour’s closed doors, how a community might never know what is really going on in its own backyard, much less that of a well-respected teacher of computer classes to local children.
2. PARADISE LOST: THE CHILD MURDERS AT ROBIN HOOD HILLS (1996).
Three teenagers — Jessie Misskelley, Damien Echols, and Jason Baldwin — are arrested and accused of the sexual mutilation and murder of three prepubescent boys in West Memphis, Arkansas.
In a case spanning decades, Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills, the first in a trilogy of films exploring this highly publicised murder trial, goes to great lengths to detail the ins and outs of this truly horrific crime, from its inception through to the arduous criminal trial involving such alleged motives as satanic ritualism.
3. THE IMPOSTER (2012).
Frédéric Bourdin, a confidence man from France, impersonates Nicholas Barclay, a Texas boy who vanished in 1994 at the age of 13. Claiming to have been kidnapped by US, Mexican and European military personnel, Bourdin, now with a French accent, brown eyes, and dark hair (as opposed to blue eyes and blond hair), fools several officials and family members of the disappeared, despite being 7 years older than Barclay.
In a truly bizarre case, The Imposter chronicles one man’s con and how a family’s trauma and grief can be manipulated in the worst possible way. It is only when the suspicions of a private investigator and FBI agent start to set in that Bourdin’s history of impersonating children starts to become apparent.
4. THE THIN BLUE LINE (1988).
In Dallas, Texas, a man, Randall Dale Adams, is convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the murder of a police officer, a murder that he did not commit. Under tremendous pressure to find the killer, the Dallas Police Department arrest Adams after David Ray Harris, a 16-year-old with whom Adams had shared a car earlier that day, accuses Adams of the murder.
Considered one of the greatest documentaries ever made, The Thin Blue Line exposes one of the biggest miscarriages of justice in US history, involving immense media coverage, the Dallas Police Department turning a blind eye to what seemingly is clear evidence of innocence, and one man serving 12 years in prison, part of which was on death row.
5. THE JINX: THE LIFE AND DEATHS OF ROBERT DURST (2015).
Robert Durst, an American real estate heir of the Durst Organization, a billion-dollar family-run company situated in New York, is arrested and accused of first-degree murder. The alleged murder (being an ongoing case) is only part of this enigmatic man’s colourful past — Durst was also involved in the 1982 disappearance of his wife, Kathie, for which he was never held accountable as there was insufficient evidence.
In a six-part series directed by Andrew Jarecki, whom Durst contacted after seeing and being impressed by Jarecki’s film All Good Things, the life and accusations of previous crimes committed by Durst are unveiled in tremendous detail. Opinions on Durst’s guilt/innocence are those of the audience. It was the day before The Jinx’s finale aired that Durst was, once again, arrested, gaining the HBO series widespread exposure.
6. MAKING A MURDERER (2015).
Having served 18 years in prison for sexual assault and attempted murder, crimes of which he was ultimately exonerated, Steven Avery, a man from Manitowoc County, Wisconsin, is released into the world, only to be re-arrested two years later in connection with the murder of a local photographer, Teresa Halbach.
In an epic 10-part series that has garnered worldwide acclaim, not least because of the overwhelming support in favour of Avery’s innocence, Making a Murderer is the ultimate fly-on-the-wall documentary, detailing with incredible accuracy the finest details of what is now a global phenomenon of a case. Nonetheless, Avery still sits behind bars, much to the dismay of millions of people.