The Twelve Shorts of Christmas #6: Sin by Silence (2009)

US / 14 minutes / color / White Heat Productions Dir & Scr: Nick White (i.e., Nick Paul White) Pr: Joe Montoya-Orosco, Matthew Del Ruth, Nick White (i.e., Nick Paul White) Cine: Matthew Del Ruth Cast: Les Mahoney, Maria Olsen, Azmyth Kaminski, Lindsay Zillgitt, Myles Cranford, Sandra Herbert, Aaron Zachary Phillips, Emma Leigh, Stephanie Ouachan, Ron Poniewaz, Jane Eustler.

Les Mahoney as Harold

An intriguing crime short told in jigsaw fashion, with segments from each of its several narrative strands appearing seemingly at random yet telling a coherent tale; a spine of sorts is supplied by a mother (Leigh) telling her child (Phillips) a version of the fable “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.”

A woman (Eustler) screams repeatedly for help while being murdered in a city courtyard. With two exceptions, the various neighbors devise excuses for not intervening or even phoning the cops. The exceptions are a foreign woman (Ouachan), who dials 911 but who, because of her broken English, is dismissed as a neurotic by the despatcher; and Kelly (Zillgitt), a woman who, her junkie boyfriend (Kaminski) having told her not to call the cops because of all the drugs in their apartment, scares off the attacker (Poniewaz) and courageously goes to the victim’s assistance—but too late to save her.

Lindsay Zillgitt as Kelly and Azmyth Kaminski as her crappy boyfriend

Meanwhile henpecked milquetoast Harold (Mahoney) backs down when his termagant wife Dilys (Olsen) forbids him to phone the police; a solitary man (Cranford) is too busy getting drunk to bother doing anything about the screams; a solitary woman (Herbert) is too scared of rocking the boat; and the mother who’s telling her kid the “Boy Who Cried Wolf” story is too fatigued—repeatedly telling her son to pay the screams no mind.

Emma Leigh as the mother . . .

. . . who tells a goodnight story to her child (Aaron Zachary Phillips)

Later, as they gather around the freshly murdered woman, the behavior of most of the principals gets even worse . . .

Sin by Silence offers in its scant running time a powerful evocation of our modern urban alienation, a fable surely inspired by the infamous 1964 case of Kitty Genovese, murdered in NYC’s borough of Queens. Genovese was attacked by the same assailant three times over a period of 35 minutes, finally being slain. Of 38 witnesses, none came to her aid or raised the alarm; one of those witnesses called the cops, but only after Genovese was dead and her murderer gone. They “didn’t want to get involved.”

Sandra Herbert as the lonely woman

(That was what happened according to the initial New York Times report, anyway. Later reassessments make it seem probable things weren’t quite that bad, although still pretty bad—in fact, the account in Sin by Silence is in general closer to the real-life case than to the legend. For a surprisingly good account of the Kitty Genovese murder, its aftermath and its reassessment see here.)

This movie has nothing to do with the other movie called Sin by Silence that was released in the same year, 2009. Directed by Olivia Klaus and featuring members of the California Institution for Women (a self-help group founded by victims of domestic violence incarcerated for killing their husbands in self-defense), this was a hard-hitting, award-winning documentary. There’s a good account of it here.

Stephanie Ouachan as the foreigner

Leaving that aside, this excellently made short is one that I’m sure will inspire most people to a little introspection. Director Nick Paul White has a Vimeo page containing this and other interesting videos.

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