Crime in the Family: A Look into John Kastner’s New Documentary
In 1998, 18-year-old Jennifer Jenkins’ parents found her shot to death in their home. Since that moment, the lives of Brian and Leslie Jenkins have been characterized by isolation and heartbreak; Jennifer’s death became intrinsically tied to the fact that the main suspect was their 20-year-old son, Mason.Director John Kastner delves into the broken home of the Jenkins family, exploring the grief and reconciliation behind the murder in his documentary film, Life With Murder.
Kastner has won four Emmys for his full-length documentaries–more than any other person in the history of Canadian television. The fourth came this November when he won the 2011 International Emmy Award for best documentary, Life With Murder.
“What [Kastner] manages to do so beautifully is he spends a lot of time in development,” said Silva Basmajian, the executive producer for the National Film Board of Canada (NFB). “He gets the trust of the individuals that he’s working with, which means that he has open access into their lives.”
“So knowing that he has that access,” Basmajian added, “[NFB] knew that he was going to get this incredibly authentic story and follow this family over a period of time.”
Many of Kastner’s films cover the lives of incarcerated criminals and their families. According to an interview with NFB, Kastner first developed an interest in covering such an intensely emotional topic at age 16, when he starred as the lead in a training film for prison guards. He spent three weeks hanging around convicts. He later became interested in the needs for offenders and, especially, the needs for families of offenders.
“When somebody murders your flesh and blood it’s this terrible dilemma,” Kastner said. “Do you break with that person or can you accept into the family somebody who murdered your father, your mother, your sister, your brother?”
This question is asked repeatedly throughout the film. The answer is neither simple nor easy, which makes it impossible for viewers not to sympathize with the two grief-stricken parents on screen.
“You can’t explain to people this nightmare of nightmares that you have been dealing with,” the filmmaker said. “It’s kind of like an alien landing from planet Venus trying to explain to an earthling what life on Venus is like.”
Kastner first heard about the Mason Jenkins story while filming Monster in the Family, a documentary about Martin Ferrier, a fellow inmate of Jenkins. Kastner began to develop a relationship with the Jenkins family and, eventually, they agreed to create the film.
“I knew I was interested in doing a film about murder in the family and how a family reconciles after such a murder,” he said. “I was eventually talking with a couple of offenders in that situation and I realized that the Jenkins’ were a natural story.”
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