When the SundanceNow Doc Club began in 2012, I was excited about a new platform of documentaries to see, under the watchful, curatorial eye of doc guru Thom Powers. But, you know, the life of such things is never easy to predict. If you’ve attended a documentary affair in the past three years, you may have met eager folks encouraging you to subscribe to the boutique service, so that you’ll know the club is still going. Well, all right.
The Doc Club hosts different collections, such as thematic ones (“Beyond Belief”), celebrity favorites (Ira Glass, Susan Sarandon) and director spotlights (Alan Berliner, Ross McElwee). Their current collection is the “Nick Broomfield Spotlight.” I had the opportunity to talk with the seasoned director about this recent gathering of his films, as well as his upcoming Tales of the Grim Sleeper, which premiers on HBO on April 27. Sleeper follows the accused serial killer Lonnie Franklin, who appears to have preyed on black prostitutes and drug users in Los Angeles for decades. As much as the film digs into humanity’s underbelly — where we often find Broomfield — it is also about what light can be found there, as well as a search for justice.
Looking at his past work, Broomfield has left an indelible mark on how documentaries are made. And considering Sleeper, which I think is one of his best films yet, it’s certainly time to give the director a close appraisal.
Broomfield tells me that he tends to go into his films “with a pretty open mind,” and without a thesis. That might be surprising to some, considering one of his most famous films is Kurt and Courtney, which gave real life to the hypothesis that Courtney Love may have had her husband, Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain, killed, as opposed to the police ruling that he died from a self-inflicted gun shot.
Even more surprising?
“I am not a conspiracy theorist,” Broomfield tells me, in regards to Sleeper, which raises the possibility that the murders in LA’s toughest, African-American neighborhoods are not the doings of one man, or that members of the LAPD may be complicit, if not directly responsible.
“I am very skeptical,” Broomfield says of any theory. “But I love examining conspiracies.”
I most wanted to know why he is drawn to the dark side of life. “I think it’s the humor that is there. And I love the stories and the people I talk with,” he says. “I also think a society defines itself by what is not working, by what is on the outside.”
He adds that he’s also, “trying to move people’s perceptions, to be less judgmental.”
There are seven other Broomfield docs in addition to Kurt and Courtney, including the well-known Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer and Biggie & Tupac, but also the lesser known Chicken Ranch, his 1983 film about the real life inspiration behind The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.
“We all lament the loss of sales in DVDs,” Broomfield says. “But this is an incredibly positive way to get your work out there. And as a filmmaker, you want your work to be seen and be considered relevant to today.”
He’s certainly done that with Sleeper, which was made before the incidents in Ferguson, Staten Island and South Carolina.
Broomfield and his films continue to be a part of the conversation.