- Documentary Feature / USA
- Director: Andrew Jenks
This review is part of my coverage of 2015’s Heartland Film Festival in Indianapolis. Click here for more of my coverage of the festival. You can find my coverage of other Indianapolis area film and TV events here.
On Halloween night 2001, a sports editor for the Columbia Tribune in Columbia, Missouri was murdered. The crime went unsolved for over two years, until Charles Erickson told police he didn’t remember the night of the murder but he thought he may have been involved. He implicated Ryan Ferguson, who was sentenced to 40 years in prison. Dream/Killer documents Ryan’s father Bill Ferguson’s nearly decade-long fight to get his son freed.
At its heart, the film is about Bill’s relationship with his son and his unwavering determination to have Ryan’s conviction overturned despite having no training as an investigator. Through footage of the trial, we’re shown just how much this conviction destroyed Bill and why it propelled him on a crusade to right what the justice system got wrong.
Unfortunately, Dream/Killer is lacking in several areas. The relationship between Bill and his son is demonstrated well and reinforced throughout. However, the viewer isn’t given any real context for the crime or why we should believe that Ryan is innocent. The documentary spends little time on the actual murder and doesn’t give any hint of what Ferguson and Ericsson’s alibis would have been on the night of the murder. Even worse, there’s no background or context for Ferguson and Charles’ friendship. The film throws the event at the heart of its subject at the viewer and then dives right into the fight for freedom.
The lack of alibis is negligible considering the title of the documentary. Dream/Killer speaks to Charles Erickson’s remarks when he first notified police of his supposed involvement with the crime. He didn’t remember the night of the murder, but he had memories of his involvement come to him, like a dream. However, the film doesn’t emphasize this aspect of the case enough. Instead, the questionable memory of Erickson is barely mentioned.
How Erickson’s memory/vision led to Ryan Ferguson’s conviction is the most interesting and frightening part of Dream/Killer. The documentary just didn’t focus enough attention on it to hold my interest. The film does a great job of showcasing the incompetence in the trial by the Ferguson’s attorney Charlie Rogers. It also shined a terrifying light on the prosecutor of the case, Kevin Crane.
As interesting and “human” as Bill Ferguson’s fight to free his son is, I was left really wishing the film examined the alleged criminal acts of Kevin Crane further. Instead of focusing the narrative on one man’s fight to overturn a conviction, Dream/Killer would have been better served as a showcase of the flaws in our criminal justice system and a harsh look at unimpeded malfeasance in the courtroom.
Coming so soon after Serial captured the nation’s attention last year, it’s difficult not to draw parallels between this documentary and the This American Life spin-off podcast. The case at the heart of Dream/Killer is similar to the case of Adnan Sayed from season one of Serial. This commonality is more indicative of a systemic problem within the criminal justice system that I wish Dream/Killer would have explored more.
In the end, this is a film about a man and his son. Though Bill comes across dry and out of his element at first, I enjoyed watching him stumble through an amateur investigation. There’s a charm to his personality that took about 45 minutes into the documentary to click with me. Still, the lack of information about the actual crime Ryan Ferguson was convicted for and the circling (but never quite hitting on) big issues within a problematic system prevented Dream/Killer from reaching its full potential.
Obsessive Grade – 5.5/10
dream/killer Heartland 2015 Screenings:
- Thursday, Oct. 22 – 5:30pm – Castleton Square
- Friday, Oct. 23 – 4pm – Castleton Square
- Saturday, Oct. 24 – 3:15pm – Wheeler Arts Community