Sunday, April 26, 2015

HotDocs 2015 Film Review - Thought Crimes

Protection under The First Amendment of the United States Constitution was on trial during the Gilberto Valle Cannibal Cop case. Gilberto's wife Kathleen discovered that her husband and father of her baby daughter had been visiting violent fetish sites and engaging in fantasy conversations with other site members about kidnapping, torturing, confining, raping and eating women.  The conversations were very detailed with each step planed out, locations to do the acts presented, and compiling the list of items that would be required to execute the plan. What really alarmed Kathleen  was that photos and names of people that she knew were uploaded from her husbands account and even her name was mentioned. The post listed the parts of her body that had a good source of meat and how she did not know what he would do to her as she slept in the other room.

Kathleen took her findings to the authorities and based on direct repeated conversations with other site members, using actual peoples names and a trip to Maryland for brunch with one of the potential victims. The prosecutors had their overt act to bring the case forward. They gained access to Gilberto's computer went though his chat history and his Google search history to find search topics:  how to kidnap, how to make chloroform, what does human flesh taste like. The two charges the prosecution decided to pursue were conspiracy to kidnap and unlawful use of the police database.

Director Erin Lee Carr uses a mixture of first person interviews, media accounts and home movies to tell the story. She interviews Valle extensively along with several psychologist, and legal minds to obtain their thoughts on the case. She also speaks to Valle's mother and father about their son. The psychologist opinions conflict as the issue rest with where does a thought cross from fantasy to reality. Carr presents an interesting comparison to writers such as Stephen King.  King has written many horrific stories but is not under investigation.  If Valle is just a good story teller how can be charged with a crime as Valle states himself he could not hurt a fly.  The opposite view points to the real people's details he posted on the site, plus his use of the police database to search for details on potential targets then the overt act of the trip to Maryland to meet with a potential target for lunch then upon return home immediately going online to discuss the trip and how the target looked.

The film falls down due to its style choices. The piece has a very television investigate report look and Carr pays up the tabloid angle too much.  Showing the sensational headlines from the New York tabloids and local news reports with the headline cannibal cop much too often. The production uses tabloid covers with Valle in a chef's hat or hovering over a late pot on a stove with a giant ladle. The piece also uses distasteful transitions from discussions and pictures illustrating cannibalism in the courtroom to Valle cooking at his mothers place during his period of house arrest.

Thought Crimes gathers a diverse group of psychological and legal minds to discuss an important first amendment issue case that could have long lasting future implications. The professionals have a thought provoking discussion for each side. Director Carr had a lot of material to work with from many sources but could have made better decisions with the delivery of the material. If you have an interest in the case or the first amendment debate its worth a look despite it's shortcomings.

** Out of Four

Thought Crimes | Erin Lee Carr | U.S.A. | 2015 | 81 Minutes.

Tags; First Amendment, New York City Police, Fetish Site, Canabilism, Google Searches, House Arrest.

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