'Amanda Knox' pulls back the curtain on a media circus

Murder trial captivated the world with its grisly details and culture clash

By Jake Coyle
AP Film Writer

NEW YORK (AP) - Amanda Knox stares into the camera, coolly contemplating how she became a figure of global fascination.

"I think people love monsters. And so when they get the chance, they want to see them. It's people projecting their fears," Knox says. "They want the reassurance that they know who the bad people are, and it's not them. So maybe that's what it is: We're all afraid, and fear makes people crazy."

Such is the provocative opening of "Amanda Knox," a documentary premiering Friday on Netflix that gives the participants of one of the most sensational trials of the century a chance to tell their story, straightforwardly, directly to the camera. For a case that often seemed like a horror movie played out in the nightly news, "Amanda Knox" allows the drama's main characters to step out from their media-crafted roles.

"We thought that a new way of adding a fresh perspective to the story was to look at it from the inside out and to get to the people at the center of the story and have them tell us what it was like to be embroiled in this whole story," says Rod Blackhurst, who directed the film with Brian McGinn.

The British student Meredith Kercher was murdered Nov. 1, 2007, in Peruga, Italy. Knox, Kercher's roommate and an American student studying abroad, and her Italian boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, were arrested and convicted of the murder. Knox was sentenced to 26 years in prison, Sollecito to 25.

Three years after Rudy Guede was convicted for the murder and sexual assault of Kercher, the convictions of Knox and Sollecito were overturned in 2011, allowing Knox to return home to Seattle after spending four years in jail. But she and Sollecito were tried again in 2014, again found guilty, only to finally be exonerated by the Italian Supreme Court in 2015.

The case captivated the world with its grisly details (prosecutors claimed Kercher was killed in a bloody sex game), its attractive alleged murderer (dubbed "Foxy Noxy" by the tabloids) and its culture clash, which pitted a young American abroad against a quaint old Italian city.

"Amanda Knox," five years in the making, centers on interviews with Knox, Sollecito, the Italian prosecutor Giuliano Mignini and Nick Pisa, a freelance journalist for the Daily Mail.

The film soberly follows the case chronologically, eventually leading to the forensic evidence that helped lead to Knox's and Sollecito's exoneration. But in the years in between, prosecutors and tabloid press (with Pisa playing a significant role) formed radically different images of the pair.

"The power of narrative to embed these incredibly strong opinions no matter what side you're on is something we're seeing in every aspect of our daily lives now," says McGinn, pointing to the U.S. presidential election. "It's important to remember that all of these stories are much more tangled and complicated than we like to think of them."

The filmmakers, both in their 30s, first approached Knox in 2011 through a mutual friend shortly after her return to Seattle. It wasn't until two years later that Knox agreed to participate. Their appeal was based on giving Knox, Sollecito and Mignini a more unfiltered avenue in which to tell their stories, without sensational or headline-motivated interest. The film was viewed for each before it premiered earlier this month at the Toronto International Film Festival.

The filmmakers have watched as their documentary has ironically returned Knox to the media's spotlight. The Daily Mail, for example, published photographs - the kind usually reserved for jet-setting movie stars - of Knox and her current boyfriend, writer Christopher Robinson, with whom she lives in Seattle, arriving in Toronto. (Knox attended the premiere but didn't speak at it.)

"They all would like to move on from this," says Blackhurst. "Not only has it defined their lives for the better part of a decade, but it seems like they'll forever be trapped in this narrative that might have latched on to them for the rest of their lives."

Knox, in the film, considers the implications of her being turned into "a monster," and the implications it has for others.

"If I'm guilty, it means I am the ultimate figure to fear. On the other hand, if I'm innocent, it means everyone's vulnerable. And it's everyone's nightmare," Knox says. "Either I'm a psychopath in sheep's clothing or I am you."

Published: Fri, Sep 30, 2016