Texas Alums Host World Premier Of Documentary

March 11, 2011

in Criminal Justice,SXSW,SXSW Film

Audrey Dodgen for PMT

It is easy to assume that a film about the wrongful conviction of a man accused of murdering his children would be bleak, even depressing. It is difficult to imagine, though, a true-life murder mystery being described as “delightfully sinister and funny.” That phrase, though, is high on the list of adjectives filmmakers Steve Mims and Joe Bailey, Jr. use to describe their recent documentary. The world premiere of INCENDIARY: The Willingham Case at 4:30 p.m. Saturday at the Paramount Theater as part of South By Southwest.

“We really set out to make a piece of cinema. It’s a scientific murder mystery, and we wanted it to hold up as a film,” Mims said.

A graduate of the University of Texas School of Law, Bailey brings unique perspective to a film about law, science and politics. INCENDIARY examines the facts of the case against Cameron Todd Willingham, executed in 2004 for killing his three daughters in a deliberate house fire. The questionable science used to convict, and the legal and political machinations spawned by the case pose unanswerable questions.

“It’s human nature to want to get to the bottom of it. We’ll never know exactly what happened, because all of the people who know what happened are dead. But we know that it didn’t happen the way Willingham was convicted of it,” he said.

INCENDIARY features a cast of real-life Texas figures, many unwittingly pitted against each other by their passion for the subject. Each person involved in the case is convinced of their view, creating an enigmatic puzzle in which the two sides are diametrically opposed and completely invested in their position.

“There are giant personalities in this film. Giant personalities with big opinions. These are people with conviction,” Mims said. Among the larger-than-life personalities, viewers will recognize some unmistakeable Texas archetypes — Bailey calls the myriad characters “very, very Texan, almost caricatures of Texas stereotypes.”

The filmmakers acknowledge gathering inspiration from King of Kong, and groundbreaking films like Errol Morris’ Thin Blue Line. Viewers will see moments in the film which are reminiscent of those inspirations. “We looked at films like King of Kong, where I don’t care about the subject, but it’s just a great film. You can’t make characters like these up, and that’s what we found in this film,” Mims said.
Bailey and Mims (himself a UT grad, with a master’s in film production) emphasize that the film is a puzzle, encouraging viewers to ruminate on the case and its effects.

“People’s opinions are going to be changed by this film. They are going to leave thinking about it, with one opinion, and the next day they are going to have a different opinion. The mystery is the thing,” Bailey said.

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