In 1998 Leslie and Brian Jenkins lost their 18 year-old daughter to a gunman who put 5 bullets into her while she sat in her basement. It wasn't long afterwards that they also lost their 20 year-old son - though this time it was to life in prison for the murder of his younger sister. How do you possibly cope with a situation like that?
If you're Leslie and Brian, you hang on to the last shreds of your family. For most of a decade, Mason Jenkins stands firm behind his wild story of a gang-style slaying of his sibling even though there's not a single piece of evidence to support it. His parents, for their part, stand firm behind him. They continue to pay him regular visits and refuse to believe that he could have killed his loving sister. However, they admit that he had his troubles (scrapes with the law, fights, thefts) and was a completely different child than the widely-loved younger Jennifer. Indeed, he had just been released from prison on Christmas Eve of 1997 - a mere two weeks or so before the murder.
Through old news footage, police videotape, home movies and recent interviews with Leslie, Brian, Mason and various other people involved with the case, director John Kastner builds a unique portrait of the Jenkins family. Sometimes awkward and not always compelling, but definitely unique. While Leslie seems to be reasonably grounded and able to speak coherently about the past and the present, Mason jumbles numerous staccato fragments together and Brian comes across as a completely broken man. His police interviews days after the event are almost incomprehensible and bordering on pathetic. After a decade of supporting his son and desperately trying to pull together the frayed ends of the family, Mason's change of his story coincides with a rapid decline in Brian's health. He's now physically and mentally shattered and struggles to put simple sentences together.
If there's a problem with the film, though, it's with these central characters. The story is well constructed, the revelations properly timed and archival footage is used appropriately to impart information, but the Jenkins family just aren't able to express their situation or their emotional states in any sort of engaging way. They aren't natural storytellers nor do they seem very comfortable in their own shells. It doesn't make the events themselves any less fascinating, but certainly affects the telling of them.
Clip found here.
Hot Doc screenings of "Life With Murder":
Saturday May 1st at 9:45PM - Isabel Bader Theatre
Sunday May 9th at 3:45PM - Bloor Cinema
Photos ©2009 JSK Jasper Productions Ltd and the National Film Board of Canada.