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Dennis Perkins

Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who lives on the West End with his lovely wife Emily, where they watch all the movies ever made. When not digging up stories about the Maine film scene, he can be found writing for the AV Club and elsewhere. The rest of the time, he's worrying about the Red Sox.

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Posted: December 18, 2017

Brunswick producer’s true crime doc hits the big screen

Written by: Dennis Perkins
The murders of wealthy Virginia couple Derek and Nancy Haysom are the subject of "Killing For Love." Photos courtesy of Sundance Selects

The murders of wealthy Virginia couple Derek and Nancy Haysom are the subject of “Killing For Love.”
Photos courtesy of Sundance Selects

“Everyone in the creative scene in Maine works several gigs, that’s how you get by.”

So says Louise Rosen, and she should know. The Brunswick resident is a producer, lecturer, teacher, former board member at local movie institutions such as the Maine Film Association, Maine Media Workshops and the Camden International Film Festival, and four-season executive and artistic director of the Maine Jewish Film Festival.

And now, she’s one of the producers of the acclaimed, true crime documentary “Killing for Love,” which opened theatrically in the United States on Friday, the same day it was made available on iTunes and premium cable.

The film, directed by journalist Karen Steinberger and filmmaker Marcus Vetter, follows in the bloody footsteps of such genre sensations as Netflix’s “Making a Murderer,” HBO’s “The Jinx” and the podcast “Serial,” as it revisits a single murder case and uncovers new facts that cast serious doubts on the established verdicts.

Watch the trailer:

The horrific 1985 murders of wealthy Virginians Nancy and Derek Haysom in their home was, after one of the first gavel-to-gavel televised trials in U.S. history, pinned on the couple’s college-age daughter, Elizabeth, and her German boyfriend, Jens Soering, who have spent the last 30 years in American prisons.

However, the filmmakers have spent years interviewing everyone involved in the case, reviewing the hundreds of hours of court footage and enlisting the assistance of experts in new forensic technology and one dogged, active-duty Virginia sheriff. And they’ve concluded that the case – especially against diplomat’s son Soering – may have been the sort of egregious miscarriage of justice so many nail-gnawingly complex documentaries are based on. And, like other such fact-chasing documentaries like Errol Morris’ “The Thin Blue Line” or the “Paradise Lost” films (which eventually secured the release of three young men originally convicted of “satanic” child murders), “Killing for Love” has provided the impetus for Soering’s case to be re-examined.

Jens Soering, who is serving time for the 1985 murder of his then-girlfriend's parents, in an interview for "Killing For Love," which casts doubt on his conviction.

Jens Soering, who is serving time for the 1985 murder of his then-girlfriend’s parents, in an interview for “Killing For Love,” which casts doubt on his conviction.

“It’s all been unfurling over this whole production period,” explained Rosen, who initially met German co-director Vetter while mentoring him at a European film program over a decade ago. Indeed, even this past week, there have been new developments (which will not be spoiled here) that have thrown the Virginia court’s process, personnel and verdict even further into question. As with all good true-crime films, the ongoing investigation of these long-ago murders has involved not only the dedicated filmmakers, but also a colorful (sometimes suspect) cast of real-life characters whose participation in the initial proceedings is seen in a different perspective in the light of new technology, new interviews and, in the film’s case, the emergence of an unlikely protagonist.

Sheriff J.E. “Chip” Harding of Albemarle County, Virginia, in seeking to expand his state’s spotty DNA database, as Rosen explains, became so intrigued by what he saw as the inaccurate application of evidence techniques in the Haysom case that he conducted his own re-investigation.

“It’s unprecedented for an active sheriff to get involved in something like this,” said Rosen, “but after being asked by a lawyer to review the case and render an opinion, Harding eventually sent a 19-page letter to Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe.”

Equally unusual about Harding is that he’s not who people would think of as a crusader against wrongful conviction and imprisonment.

“Often, claims of injustice or miscarriage of justice are attributed solely to sort of liberal or left-leaning people or organizations,” Rosen said. Like The Innocence Project, which is also heavily involved in Soering’s case. “But Chip Harding is a Republican, and he supports expanding the DNA database for all sorts of reasons. In his mind, it would streamline the law enforcement process and save taxpayers a lot of money.”

Indeed, a running tally on the film’s website listing the current costs of imprisoning Soering (who has always claimed his innocence) for 30 years, stands at over $850,000.

As to why we’re so fascinated with true crime as entertainment, Rosen offered the opinion that “people are just fascinated by the genre, and human behavior. I’m not a psychologist, but as with any genre over time, different flavors emerge within (true crime). At heart, they’re deeply human stories.”

Regardless of the reason, these mixtures of storytelling and crime reporting have become a dominant force in entertainment (and internet debate), and “Killing for Love” already achieved significant success in advance of its American release, in no small part because of Louise Rosen’s producing skills. In addition to showing at International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam and New York’s Doc NYC festival last year, “Killing for Love” has been sold to the BBC, where it’s been broken down into a six-part series for the British network’s BBC Storyville programming strand.

With the film being picked up for U.S. theatrical and streaming release by IFC/Sundance Selects, Rosen said that Mainers should expect to have their chance to see “Killing for Love” very soon. Already confirmed for screenings at Frontier in Rosen’s hometown of Brunswick, there are plans to bring the movie to several other Maine theaters, where Rosen hopes to be in attendance, along with either people associated with the film or experts in the subject of wrongful incarceration.

Noting that Chip Harding will be at the film’s New York premiere, while actor and activist Martin Sheen will be at the Los Angeles screening, Rosen knows that sort of “value-added” viewing experience makes people more likely to take in the full theatrical experience these days, instead of just “streaming it in your living room.”

As the busy Rosen notes (she’s heading off to Canada for a film, TV and media production event, and producing films on subjects as varied as the “synthcore” music movement, along with several others she “can’t talk about yet”), being involved in the film business is both a constant struggle and a constant source of joy.

“As soon as I catch my breath, post-opening, I hope to be at as many Maine screenings as possible,” she said, laughing. “There’s value in that shared experience, just like there is in doing things you have passion for.”

“Killing for Love” opened nationwide in theaters and on iTunes on Friday, Dec. 15, and Maine screenings are on the way in January. Keep an eye on this column for details, along with the film’s website, killingforlove.com, and the streaming and screening locator site GoWatchIt at gowatchit.com.


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