Arresting content planned for country’s first True Crime Film Fest at Strand Theatre

Author Trudy Nan Boyce poses for a portrait in Krog Street Tunnel in 2016. TAYLOR CARPENTER / TAYLOR.CARPENTER@AJC.COM

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Author Trudy Nan Boyce poses for a portrait in Krog Street Tunnel in 2016. TAYLOR CARPENTER / TAYLOR.CARPENTER@AJC.COM

When Cameron Munson was small, his grandmother used to sing a nursery rhyme.

Lizzie Borden took an ax, and gave her mother 40 whacks.

When she saw what she had done, she gave her father 41.

The ghoulish little song about the American woman tried and acquitted of the murders of her father and stepmother in 1892 would prove to be Munson’s initial entry point into the grim world of true crime.

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Festival director Cameron Munson has created a “victim- and survivor-centered” festival, presenting true crime films that focus on the experience of victims and their families.

Credit: Courtesy of Cameron Munson

Festival director Cameron Munson has created a “victim- and survivor-centered” festival, presenting true crime films that focus on the experience of victims and their families.

Credit: Courtesy of Cameron Munson

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Festival director Cameron Munson has created a “victim- and survivor-centered” festival, presenting true crime films that focus on the experience of victims and their families.

Credit: Courtesy of Cameron Munson

Credit: Courtesy of Cameron Munson

“The Lizzie Borden nursery rhyme was something that my grandmother often used to sing,” he said. “And when I finally got old enough, she told me it was based on a true story. I was just fascinated. I thought, ‘How could that be based on a true story? It’s so horrific.’ I would watch all the different history documentaries about Lizzie Borden, and that was my introduction to true crime without really, as a child, understanding that it was true crime.”

Seeing his dad on the evening news aiding police in the high speed chase of local bank robbers down I-95 brought true crime closer to home for a young Munson, further catalyzing an interest in the genre that would follow him into adulthood.

The fruits of this fandom have also born the inaugural True Crime Film Fest, organized by Munson and coming to the historic Earl and Rachel Smith Strand Theatre in Marietta. The festival, the first of its kind in the United States, kicks off at noon Saturday.

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Erica Kelley, host of the popular Southern Fried True Crime podcast, will host the day-long True Crime Film Fest in Marietta.

Credit: Courtesy of True Crime Film Fest

Erica Kelley, host of the popular Southern Fried True Crime podcast, will host the day-long True Crime Film Fest in Marietta.

Credit: Courtesy of True Crime Film Fest

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Erica Kelley, host of the popular Southern Fried True Crime podcast, will host the day-long True Crime Film Fest in Marietta.

Credit: Courtesy of True Crime Film Fest

Credit: Courtesy of True Crime Film Fest

Munson, who worked previously with the Atlanta Film Series as a festival director, brought on Erica Kelley, host of the popular Southern Fried True Crime podcast, to host the day-long program, which features four full-length true crime films and four documentary shorts.

The festival will include Q&As with filmmakers and a special discussion with Trudy Nan Boyce, crime novelist and retired Atlanta Police Department lieutenant, homicide detective and senior hostage negotiator. The lineup also includes a special live presentation of the Atlanta true crime podcast, Catlick, by B.T. Hartman, and a special live presentation of Kelley’s Southern Fried True Crime episode, “The Alabama Axe Murderess.”

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A still from a video that Cameron Munson used to fundraise for the first True Crime Film Fest, unspooling this weekend.

Credit: Courtesy of Cameron Munson

A still from a video that Cameron Munson used to fundraise for the first True Crime Film Fest, unspooling this weekend.

Credit: Courtesy of Cameron Munson

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A still from a video that Cameron Munson used to fundraise for the first True Crime Film Fest, unspooling this weekend.

Credit: Courtesy of Cameron Munson

Credit: Courtesy of Cameron Munson

It was Munson’s primary goal in putting together the True Crime Film Fest to give attendees, folks who have likely consumed hours of true crime shows on channels such as ID, countless documentaries like “The Night Stalker” on Netflix or “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark” on HBO, something they’ve never seen before.

“I didn’t want to screen something that they were going to see in two weeks on Discovery or Hulu,” he says. “I wanted to show them something that they hadn’t [seen] that they need to [see].”

The film “Park View,” for example, directed by Tab Ballis, explores the 1990 the murder of Talana Kreeger in the coastal community of Wilmington, North Carolina, one that continues to challenge assumptions about our culture’s responses to LGBTQ hate crimes. In “Indians, Outlaws, Marshals and the Hangin’ Judge,” director Larry Foley tells a 19th century tale of Native American removal, capital punishment and “a charismatic judge who sentenced scores of felons to ‘hang by the neck until you’re dead.’” “Mountain Time,” directed by Scott Hess, invites viewers into the story of a 100-year-old murder, one of the most heinous in Sonoma County, California — one blamed, perhaps falsely, on a Japanese immigrant. And Cade Thomas’ “Laura” revisits the 1977 cold case disappearance of Laura Long, which left a lasting impact on the residents of a small Oklahoma town.

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The True Crime Film Fest happens at the Strand in Marietta Jan. 22-23, 2022.

Credit: Courtesy of the True Crime Film Fest

The True Crime Film Fest happens at the Strand in Marietta Jan. 22-23, 2022.

Credit: Courtesy of the True Crime Film Fest

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The True Crime Film Fest happens at the Strand in Marietta Jan. 22-23, 2022.

Credit: Courtesy of the True Crime Film Fest

Credit: Courtesy of the True Crime Film Fest

In screening these films, and creating space for discussion around them, Munson also hopes the True Crime Film Fest can foster a stronger sense of community among local and regional true crime fans.

“I want it to feel like an intimate environment,” he says. “So when Erica or Trudy or B.T. step down from the stage, you can actually approach them and continue the conversation with them. While the Strand is a rather large theater, which is great for social distancing, I still wanted it to have that intimate feeling to it. And I hope that in between films, people start talking with each other.”

Munson describes his film festival as “victim- and survivor-centered.” As such, it was critical for him to select films and shorts that aimed to focus more on the experience of the victims and their families, rather than on splashy glorification of criminals.

“I was really impressed by how much heart is in all of [these films],” he says. “They’re all from varying degrees of filmmaking. Some of them are more home-movie style, and some of them are much more polished, with re-enactments and big costumes. But they all have this heart, paying attention to what the film is really about and not giving the attention to the people that don’t deserve it.”

Munson is also donating $1 from every ticket purchased to the nonprofit Atlanta Victim Assistance, an organization that advocates for and provides services to victims of violent crime.

“That was something I was very adamant about from the very beginning,” he says. “I wanted to make sure to champion something for victims in the community.”

Munson is aware that true crime as a genre faces a lot of criticism. People who don’t engage with it don’t understand the appeal it has for fans, why anyone would want to watch shows or listen to podcasts that tell such gruesome tales. But for Munson and so many others, loving true crime goes much deeper than a macabre interest in serial killers. For many, it’s a kind of cathartic viewing experience that helps them navigate their own fears. For families and survivors, it can shed important light on investigations that, in many cases, have led to real justice being served.

“And there’s a safety aspect to it, too, that I kind of correlate to why people like to watch horror movies,” Munson says. “[Viewers] can experience these events in a safe atmosphere. And the safety part of watching true crime is also the idea of ‘knowledge is power.’ You can learn a lot about what not to do, and what things to do, particularly if you’re watching something that’s been done well.”

That sense of safety, of empowerment through knowledge, of applying what you’re seeing to your own life, is all part of the appeal, he says, and part of why he founded the True Crime Film Fest.

“Because we all know that nobody is immune to crime. In whatever form it may take, nobody’s immune to it.”

IF YOU GO

True Crime Film Fest

Noon-11 p.m. Jan. 22. Individual blocks for specific events, $20; full-day pass $40. Earl and Rachel Smith Strand Theatre, 117 N. Park Square, Marietta. truecrimefilmfest.com.

Beth Ward is an Atlanta-based writer and editor. Her work has appeared in numerous publications, including The Rumpus, Hyperallergic, Atlas Obscura, BUST magazine, The Bitter Southerner, Atlanta magazine and Burnaway. Learn more about her work at www.bethwardwriting.com


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Credit: ArtsATL

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Working closely with the American Press Institute, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is embarking on an experiment to identify, nurture and expand a network of news partnerships across metro Atlanta and the state.

Our newest partner, ArtsATL (www.artsatl.org), is a nonprofit organization that plays a critical role in educating and informing audiences about metro Atlanta’s arts and culture. Founded in 2009, ArtsATL’s goal is to help build a sustainable arts community contributing to the economic and cultural health of the city.

Over the next several weeks, we’ll be introducing more partners, and we’d love to hear your feedback.

You can reach Managing Editor Mark A. Waligore via email at mark.waligore@ajc.com.