The documentarian Nick Broomfield is sometimes lumped in with Michael Moore because they share the same shtick of inserting themselves into their films. Not only was Broomfield doing this before Moore made “Roger & Me,” but his films — including “Heidi Fleiss: Hollywood Madam,” “Kurt & Courtney,” “Biggie & Tupac” and two films with Aileen Wuornos — tend to be about much more than him. He’s only in a little bit of his latest, “Tales of the Grim Sleeper,” which finds the soft-spoken, sometimes bumbling English filmmaker heading to South Central to examine the "Grim Sleeper," a serial killer who ran rampant over the area for 25 years before being caught. But this becomes an excuse to get to know people in a disenfranchised and demonized part of one of America’s richest cities.
What is your history with this area of the city?
I’ve lived in Los Angeles a long time. I’ve always been aware that it’s a deeply divided city, with these amazingly rich areas but where the majority is very poor and completely disenfranchised. When I read about the Grim Sleeper story, the thing that most interested me was the community. The people are completely unrepresented by the rest of the city, particularly the area that witnessed the Watts riots and the L.A. riots more recently. They call it something else; they don’t call it the “riots,” they call it “the uprising.” It’s a whole different attitude. I wanted to educate myself a bit more about the city. And I thought how is it possible — or, to put it another way, it is only possible that this is where these murders happened, what that number and over that period of time, and literally nothing was done about it. When he was caught he was caught by a computer. In a very short period of time I was bale to uncover things the police you’d think would have uncovered in a matter of weeks, if they had wanted to.
It’s a part of town that seems to have been forgotten by the rest of it.
When the funding, the programs stopped in the late ’70s, the community’s communication with the rest of the city ceased. No one was coming in. I knew people who had set up medical centers and reeducation programs and tried to get people jobs and opportunities, tried to get the community going. There’s nothing now. There’s no money going into that community. This is the result. There are parts of South Central where there’s no shop, there’s nothing. The roads aren’t surfaced properly. It feels like the bomb has gone off. The restaurants are terrible. You can’t get a decent meal.
What really comes across is the people. The bulk of the film is spent chatting with people, and the real star winds up being Pam, a former prostitute who leads you around the community.
The people we met were so appreciative of the fact that they were able to talk at length about their lives. I did think it was the first time it ever happened. They’re more than capable of talking about it. There was no need for me to say anything. They were incredibly articulate and very aware of their position. All these people who’ve lived in Los Angeles all their lives were warning me not to go down there, because dreadful things would happen. There is this boogeyman impression in Los Angeles. That happens if you have this whole community who are misrepresented. It becomes this non-place. It’s like the barbarians behind the wall. It was a fun film to make because the people we met were such amazing people. They felt like this was their film. They knew it was more than a 30-second spot on the local news.