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Sundance 2014 review: Captivated: The Trials of Pamela Smart

by on January 18, 2014


A riveting look at the first televised murder trial and a harbinger of reality television madness to come, Captivated: The Trials of Pamela Smart is not only an enthralling dissection of the idea of justice in the modern media age; it’s also an important piece that could conceivably help lead to Smart’s release from prison, ala the West Memphis Three case, if the right people explore some of the evidence presented in the film.

Smart was a New Hampshire high school teacher in the early ’90s whose affair with a student led to the murder of her husband Greg by the student and two of his friends. The three boys eventually pointed the finger at Smart as the instigator of the plot, and she was convicted as an accomplice to the murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole–even though the boys who actually shot her husband all cut deals that got them out of life sentences.

Captivated shows how the presence of cameras in the courtroom for the first time ever–and Smart’s own admitted enjoyment of the spotlight–combined to create a media story of a sex-bomb ice queen capable of easily manipulating high school boys to commit murder. The case was a staple for shows like Geraldo, Donahue, Inside Edition and like at the time, as well as a source for TV movies and a fictionalized account inspired by the case that became the Nicole Kidman/Joaquin Phoenix flick To Die For.

Captivated: The Trials of Pamela Smart explores how the media presence around the case changed the way everyone involved behaved, from the accused to the judge, the lawyers to the jury. New interviews with the players, including the imprisoned Smart, and audio tapes secretly recorded by one of the jury members during the trial, combine to make you realize that what everyone thought they knew about this small-town murder might be bogus. Or, at the very least, a media creation barely based in the truth.

Captivated: The Trials of Pamela Smart remaining screenings: 

Sunday, Jan. 19, 1:30 p.m., Redstone, Park City

Monday, Jan. 20, 3 p.m., Sundance Resort

Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2:30 p.m., Prospector Square Theatre, Park City

Friday, Jan. 24, 6 p.m., Egyptian Theatre, Park City

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