US docs 'Mea Maxima Culpa,' 'Central Park Five' and 'West of Memphis' powerfully take on corrupt authorities
LONDON -- There's a temptation at film festivals to imagine cinematic trends based on certain likenesses between films screened in close proximity – though when those films drift away from each other out in the real world, those initial overlaps don't always seem so resonant. So I'm not going to point to something in the air after watching three standout US documentaries at the London Film Festival – “Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God,” “Central Park Five” and “West of Memphis” – that chronicle a range of young individuals failed in various ways by American authorities.
Even so, their shared spirit of measured fury is striking: each film documents a long night's journey into day of sorts, as a severe human infraction is brought to rights – or at least partial correction – over the course of years, or even decades. The inequities of the United States justice system come under scrutiny in “Central Park Five” and “West of Memphis,” while “Mea Maxima Culpa” puts the Catholic Church atop its target list. Considered distrust of the social systems designed to protect us, however, courses through all of them, making for a powerful American collective in a touchy election year.