The Witness (2015)

the witness movie poster documentary
8.0 Overall Score

First half is more interesting

Strange turn in second half of the documentary

Movie Info

Movie Name:  The Witness

Studio:  Five More Minutes Productions

Genre(s):  Documentary

Release Date(s):  October 6, 2015 (New York Film Festival)/June 3, 2016 (US)

MPAA Rating:  Not Rated

the witness kitty genovese murder recreation animation

Who saw what and what did they do?

On March 13, 1964, Kitty Genovese was attacked on her way home to her apartment in Kew Gardens in Queens.  Murdered by a man named Winston Moseley with a knife in front of a large apartment, the world was in shock when the news reported that thirty-eight people heard and saw the attack and did nothing.  The story became a marker of the apathy of people and a textbook case.  Kitty’s younger brother Bill found his life shaped by the murder, but Bill also questioned the accuracy of the account.  Seeking out the thirty-eight witnesses, Bill uncovers what possibly could be the real story…but reality is a tricky slope.

Directed by James D. Solomon, The Witness is a documentary of the well documented murder of Kitty Genovese.  The movie premiered in 2015 at the New York Film Festival but the movie wasn’t released until 2016.  The film was short-listed for the Academy Awards for Best Documentary.

the witness am rosenthal bill genovese

A. M. Rosenthal…did he use the situation?

Even if you don’t know Kitty Genovese’s name, you know the story.  It is something you learn about in psychology and is also used as an example of “if you see something, you need to say something”.  The documentary helps the viewer learn the story, but also throws into question the whole concept of the story…but ultimately asks the question of what does it solve knowing the truth?

The movie starts out as a true research of the crime.  The investigation into the reporting of the murder really comes into question and it becomes a case where reporters and researchers’ narrative of the story became more important than the story itself.  It not only questioned humanity’s nature to help, but it also became a real touchstone for change…people need to become involved.  That’s a positive to come out of the story, but Bill Genovese’s research indicates that people possibly did become involved…but various reporters and officers didn’t like that narrative.

the witness kitty genovese home movies

The forgotten memories of Kitty that aren’t dark.

The second half of the film takes a real turn by going into why Bill Genovese is researching his sister’s death.  Despite misgivings by his family who has put the murder to bed or in the back of their minds, Bill has a somewhat uncomfortable obsession with the case.  His family’s desire for him to not research or even attempt to meet with Moseley is overridden by this obsession.  The movie culminates in a really uncomfortable recreation of what it would have sounded like if accounts of his sister’s murder were true.  His obsession at this point seems to go over the line…it is one thing to know, but it is another to try to experience.  According to the documentary’s construction however, it does seem to put the matter to rest for him.

The Witness because of these two halves seems a bit unbalanced at points.  It is still a compelling story and potentially a good teaching tool for journalism and reporting.  The second half of the film is a necessity to understand the first half of the film, but as someone interested in true crime stories, I found it a little less compelling.  Bottom line is that the murder was a tragedy, and The Witness shows how a moment of terror can change lives forever.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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