Hot Docs 2013: Interview with Justin Webster, Director of I Will Be Murdered
I Will Be Murdered is a snaky, twisty thriller. It’s also a documentary and that twisty narrative is a true story. I sat down with director Justin Webster to talk about the challenges of reporting a suspenseful, thrilling, surprising tale that happens to be fact.
Webster is no stranger to telling complicated yet true stories via documentary film, nor is he a stranger to Latin American culture and politics. “I’ve made films on complicated subjects and stories, centered around issues of truth and justice,” says Webster. “This story was the most inspiring – and challenging. That line about truth being stranger than fiction made it irresistible.”
It is very difficult to write about I Will Be Murdered without including spoilers. As absurd as that may sound in the case of a documentary – it’s a real story after all – but it’s relevant in this case. While the murder and resulting investigation of Rodrigo Rosenberg was big news in Guatemala and Latin America, and I Will Be Murdered has air in Britain on the BBC 4’s Storyville, the detail of this narrative are probably still unfamiliar to North American viewers. This balancing act between addressing people who know the tale and those who don’t is something Weber considered carefully (and successfully, in my opinion) when making the film.
“That’s why it takes the form of a thriller,” says Webster. “I think in thriller form people are more willing to not know everything. Timing was very important in the storytelling, revealing little bits at a time. That is the way the story really happened.”
And what a story it is. My next question is about the real world fallout from the ultimate revelation. The evidence about really happened in the strange case of Rodrigo Rosenberg is pretty overwhelming, but do people in Guatemala accept the outcome?
“I would say there’s not a high level of acceptance, or maybe about half believe it and half do not,” says Webster. “There’s so much anger towards the government and anyone in power, so for people it becomes just political – if it’s perceived as favorable for the president, the enemies of the president refuse to believe it. It’s kind of ‘the truth be damned.'”
While that might sound a little gloomy, Webster sees a lot of positives in the public reaction. “Eduardo [son of Rodrigo Rosenberg] doesn’t come down strongly on the side of his father doing a bad thing,” says Webster. “It is his father, so he’s invested in that way. But I think there’s a new generation, represented by Eduardo, that has a different attitude. They’re not willing to perpetuate the status quo like the older generation.”
To further bolster his point, Webster points out a silver lining that did not occur to me while watching and thinking about I Will Be Murdered. “It was an incredibly difficult murder case and investigation,” says Webster. “And it was solved. That’s no small thing.”