Bayou Blue (Garden Thieves Pictures, NR)

dvd bayou-blueInstead of trying to ignite outrage, directors Lambert and McMahon have created a calm film about a terrible subject.

 

 

Usually serial killers are catnip to the news media, as they offer the potential to simultaneously appeal to the public’s fascination with lurid and forbidden, and deliver moral lessons and Big Thoughts about the world in which we live. For that reason, it’s somewhat surprising that the story of Ronald Dominique, who raped and killed 23 boys and men in Southeastern Louisiana between 1997 and 2006, got overlooked.

How did this happen? One clue lies in the response given to a local reporter who pitched the story to The New York Times. The Times was not interested, he said, because the paper regarded the killings as a regional rather than national story. Other clues: The killings took place in a particularly impoverished part of the United States; the victims were mostly African Americans, some of them homeless and others had been in trouble with the law; and the sex angle was homosexual, and thus of limited titillation value to many readers.

Bayou Blue, directed by the versatile Alix Lambert and David McMahon, tells the story of Dominique’s killings through interviews with relatives, law enforcement officials, and police tapes of Dominique describing his crimes. That may sound like a conventional true-crime film, but Bayou Blue is anything but.

Lambert and McMahon’s varied backgrounds—among other things, she’s produced and written for television, had her art shown at the Venice Biennale, and written a book on Russian tattoos, while he’s an actor and theatrical producer as well as a filmmaker—is evident in their approach to Bayou Blue. This film is about as far as you can get from both the stir-’em-up approach of documentaries like The Central Park Five and the put-yourself-on-camera style favored by directors such as Michael Moore and Josh Fox.

Instead of trying to ignite outrage or put themselves at the center of the story, Lambert and McMahon have created a calm film about a terrible subject. Shots of the Louisiana countryside remind you that a poor area can also be beautiful, and the interviews and television clips feel unhurried. It helps that cinematographer Shane Sigler knows how to use a tripod, so there’s no shaky-cam calling attention away from the story to be told.

Certainly the horror of Dominique’s crimes need no amplification, and Lambert’s steady approach allows the view to process a story that is both remarkable (there’s no way to get around the monstrosity of these murders, some of which you hear described by the killer himself) and ordinary (some people’s lives are valued more than others, by both the justice system and by the news media). Although Lambert and McMahon’s refusal to adopt the true-crime documentary clichés may limit the film’s audience appeal, I hope it doesn’t, because this is an outstanding film that deserves to be seen by a wide audience. | Sarah Boslaugh

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