With a crucial difference.
Rather than indulging in reality TV's grim schadenfreude, Broomfield's films reveal social truths well worth examining. His most recent film is Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer, about the 2002 execution by lethal injection of Florida serial killer and prostitute Aileen Wuornos, who killed seven men during the late 1980s and '90s.
Creative Loafing: How would you characterize your relationship with Aileen Wuornos? Did you develop any sense of affection for her?
Nick Broomfield: Well I did. I think behind all of the front and bluster, Aileen was always this lost little girl. Aileen's childhood finished very early like a lot of abused kids.
Would that explain the very different tone of Aileen, which is much more subdued than your previous film, The Selling of a Serial Killer?
Well, it's hard to be really jokey about someone who's about to be executed. I think I was just very upset by [Florida Gov.] Jeb Bush and the way he characterized her as pure evil, which seemed to be an excuse not to ask any further questions about how Aileen came to be the person she was or to assume any kind of responsibility for the ways that she might have been failed. She was sort of characterized as this man-hating lesbian; I did feel it was sort of a witch-hunt.
It's depressing enough to watch Aileen. How does it feel as the person making it, to get so deep into this person's horrible experience of rape, abuse and neglect?
It was a very tough film to make. I think it was worth making because I feel it is a political statement about the criminal justice system at a moment in America, which is only becoming worse under the influence of George Bush and his brother Jeb Bush.
Did you have a different view of the death penalty before you began delving into Aileen's case?
This is so called the most advanced society in the world, and it's so barbaric in its criminal justice system ... that surprised me. I think the level of vengeance surprised me. The lack of care; in fact she received no treatment in prison for her problems.
What did you think of Charlize Theron's performance in Monster?
I helped her prepare for the role by sending her the films I'd done before, and we talked about Aileen. I really do think it's a great performance. I was really pleasantly surprised by it.
How do you answer people who have accused you of exploiting this subject?
Aileen wanted to talk to me. Aileen wanted to do this film. I was the only person she spoke to in the last year. I certainly haven't financially exploited the subject, so I don't know what they're talking about ... .
Do you think there was something more you could have done to help Aileen?
Not really. I remember trying to get her to change her lawyer, get a better legal defense. Aileen was quite difficult to work with. She alienated people ... she had a problem differentiating between people who she could trust and who not to trust.
Was this the hardest film you've had to make?
In terms of access this was not a hard film to make. But emotionally I found it difficult ... just seeing the cold-blooded way the state operated. There really is no compassion. And I don't really know what it achieved at all in terms of making a better society or creating a better understanding. It doesn't seem to be a great move toward civilization.
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