This story is part of True/False Conversations, a series of in-depth interviews with the filmmakers of this year's True/False Film Fest.
Director Stephen Maing weaves together the stories of a group of whistleblower cops, a private investigator and a young man who says the police framed him. Maing says he set out to create a portrait of a community in “Crime + Punishment.”
He was inspired by the storytelling techniques of Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood” and the author’s idea that “reporting can be made as interesting as fiction and done as artistically.” Maing applies this idea when covering the alleged use of illegal policing quotas by the NYPD.
Okeson-Haberman: You wanted this film to be narratively a little bit different than other films that talk about policing issues. How did you want your film to be different?
Mang: Well, I think the hardest thing about this project was trying to make a film about something that the public probably largely feels they are very aware of and exposed to on a near daily or weekly basis, you know, through social media and news that comes out about policing on a regular basis. So for me the challenge was how we could find a really unique cinematic form that would present things that people thought that might be familiar but in an entirely new way, and the biggest part of that was going deep with characters and creating a really immersive experience where we could be in the pocket with police officers as they are making real-time decisions that impact their careers, their personal lives, their safety even at times and allow the film to be structured in a very loose, almost David Simon way that would link seemingly unrelated stories into a larger systemic view of policing in New York City.
Okeson-Haberman: Over the course of the time that you filmed this the Black Lives Matter movement starts and there's more media attention to this issue of community policing. Since you've been with this group for such a long time, I was wondering what do you think the media missed about this narrative?
Mang: I don't think the media necessarily missed a whole lot-- don't take me on face value with that. Because there are other smaller stories or other stories that the media constantly misses but in terms of sort of the big picture bulk items, I don't think the media necessarily misses everything but I do think that the what the press often misses is the importance of connecting the dots and trying to represent kind of systemic dysfunction and I know that's a very big, that’s a very tall order.
Okeson-Haberman: What do you learn from the officers that you didn't expect from being this fly on the wall?
Mang: Simply put, I never thought that they would come out and actually do as much as they did and be as dedicated as they were. I wasn't surprised based on the sort of integrity of individuals that they all were, but you know a lot is on the line when you call out the most policing institution in the United States and you are putting not just the information of what's happening out there but you are putting your own personal story out there and so this was incredibly moving and inspiring and even at times alarming.