“I Was Drawn… to the Pure Mystery of It”: Liz Garbus on Her HBO Doc, Who Killed Garrett Phillips?

Filmmaker Magazine | 7/22/2019 | Lauren Wissot
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by Lauren Wissot

Documentary, HBO, Liz Garbus, Who Killed Garrett Phillips?

Town - Potsdam - NY - Atrocity - Garrett

In 2011 the small town of Potsdam, NY was rocked by an inexplicable atrocity: 12-year-old Garrett Phillips was discovered murdered in his home. The tragedy in turn launched a manhunt, which led to the ex-boyfriend — or rather, one of the ex-boyfriends — of Garrett’s mother Tandy Cyrus being arrested for the crime. Which only led to more questions as this man, Oral “Nick” Hillary, happened to be the beloved soccer coach at Clarkson University. And also one of the few black men in town.

Liz Garbus’s Who Killed Garrett Phillips? painstakingly follows the twists and turns that unfolded over the five years from Garrett’s death to Hillary’s trial. Through a treasure trove of materials — including police recordings, courtroom footage, and interviews with everyone from investigators, to family members, to Hillary himself — Garbus crafts a cautionary tale of what can happen when racial bias and a community’s desperate need for closure ultimately collide.

Filmmaker - Story - Place - Nick - Hillary

Filmmaker: So what drew you to this story in the first place? What specifically separates Nick Hillary’s tale from the many other infuriating examples of black men victimized by a racist justice system?

Garbus: I was drawn to this story for many reasons, but I would say, firstly, the pure mystery of it. The fact that on a weekday afternoon, in broad daylight, a person could do this heinous crime and escape into the night unseen. And the way that the entire town and its culture were completely upended. You could really explore the fabric of this community, the interconnections.

Course - Issues - Race - Class - Policing

Of course, issues of race, class, policing, largely unchecked prosecutorial power — those issues were a microcosm of those that plague our justice system as a whole.

Filmmaker: Were you convinced of Nick’s innocence from the start of the project,...
(Excerpt) Read more at: Filmmaker Magazine
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