“Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn't.” ― Mark Twain This is something to remember especially when one watches "The Fear of 13." This documentary with it's twists and turns is a stark reminder of the truth of Twain's statement.
To begin with, Documentary is story. In the Fear of 13 two master storytellers join to tell an engrossing tale. One is the central subject of the Film Nick. Now I could have told you that his full name is Nick Yarris, but director David Sington simply introduces him as Nick. Soon it becomes clear to the viewer that the both subject and director act as conspirators in the game of guide and reveal in the telling of a fantastical tale.
Nick's tale is carried out as a tragic comedy of errors that continually keeps the viewers on the edge of their seats. IT all began simply enough. Enraged at being pulled over in 1981 Nick responds in a incredibly hot tempered fashion for attempted murder of a police officer. While this may have been the initial entry into his incarceration, Nick then tries to con his way into recieving a lower plea dropping names that he heard on the cell block and finds himself charged with being the perpetrator of an unsolved the rape and murder. In a rush and flurry of activity he finds himself on death row for a crime he did not commit.
Many of you might be saying that this is not a novel story and we have heard it all before. An Innocent man on death row fighting for his freedom. But, as I said, Nick is a master storyteller and his story is so fantastical that it quickly envelops the viewer.
All of this is aided by director David Sington. He won acclaim in his co-direction of a documentary about the Appolo missions, In the Shadow of the Moon (2007). In The Fear of Thirteen his direction is just as astute. Though the timing of the tale is carried by Nick, Sington and his cinematographer Clive North do an excellent job of placing Nick within a confining world. Tight framing and an artistic lighting reflective of Errol Morris Sington does an exquisite job of utilizing re-enactments combined with footage that is much more psychological. While it may not be as explosive, volatile, or maddeningly manic in its depiction as Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control (Morris, 1997), that is okay... it's a different type of story.
Though we start in the middle of the story, the director reveals through clips and flashbacks an event that happened in the woods. While intriguing as it is occurring, and the viewer is trying to make the connections, the story of Nick with its perpetual triumphs and defeats proves more interesting which might weaken for some the power of the 'reveal' of the woods.
The film does an excellent job however of follwing a story where certianties are never apparent. Where the viewer is captured as moment follows into moment. It is an impossible story that happened. It doesn't try to tell a story of revolt against a system, it doesn't demand change... no, it is just two master storytellers telling a story that despite its twists and turns is true.