The 22nd Annual Austin Film Festival
Booger Red Finds the Truth in Fiction
Hybrid film delves into the Mineola Swingers Club trials
Though not technically a documentary, Booger Red, which will have its North American premiere at the Austin Film Festival, explores the true story of a small East Texas community turned upside down when seven adults were accused, tried, and convicted of engaging in horrible acts of child abuse.
Thoroughly documented in a series of Texas Monthly articles over the last few years, the events surrounding the "Mineola Swingers Club" trials are now widely viewed as a shocking miscarriage of justice. Rather than being an example of evil adults preying on the sexual innocence of children, post-sentencing examinations of the case point to this being a cascading series of fabrications put in motion by the children's foster mother.
Booger Red, directed by Berndt Mader and co-written by Mader and Johnny McAllister, is stylistically inspired by Abbas Kiarostami's Close-Up, a film that melds truth and fiction as it addresses actual events and features real people playing themselves.
Similarly, Mader and his team asked the defendants in the Mineola sex abuse case (most of whom are now free) to appear in their film, and revealingly, they agreed. "It became very apparent that they really wanted to tell their story," says Mader.
By adding a fictional journalist (Onur Tukel) into the mix with his own demons to deal with, the filmmakers provide a "surrogate for the audience." With the essential help of his savvy sister-in-law (Marija Karan), the reporter knocks on doors, scours public records, and attempts to piece together what really happened.
Mader knew that tackling such a delicate, sprawling story would be an "immense challenge," and by choosing to play with the boundaries of fact and fiction, the film aims to be an "interesting juxtaposition" that relies on creative invention while at the same time paying respect to the serious nature of the events that transpired.
The one remaining defendant still incarcerated is Dennis Pittman,* and he appears in the first moments of the film, speaking to Tukel's fictional character as himself, on the other side of the prison glass. Mader's take on the film's tone rings especially true in this moment: "The movie puts the viewer in unfamiliar territory – it's a little unsettling."
Along with the filmmakers and lead actors, several of the Mineola defendants will be on-hand at Friday's post-screening Q&A, where they'll have the chance to add further context to the accusations. In other words, this story isn't over yet.
*An earlier version of this story identified Patrick Kelly as still being incarcerated, when in fact it is Dennis Pittman who is still in prison. The Chronicle regrets the error.
Friday, Oct. 30, 9:30pm, Texas Spirit Theater; Monday, Nov. 2, 7:15pm, Rollins Studio Theatre