Transcending the Conventions of “True Crime” in Love & Terror on the Howling Plains of Nowhere

by Dave Jannetta

In the broadest sense – I made “Love and Terror” because it’s a film that I would want see.

On the surface, it has the elements of documentaries that I love: a riveting underlying story, fascinating characters, a unique setting, and the opportunity to explore a seemingly foreign universe. Yet, I aimed to transcend the conventions of “true crime” (the genre to which it ostensibly belongs) by finding an anchor in parallel narratives of personal struggle, and the sometimes-quixotic pursuit of truth.

The “narrator” of the film, iconoclastic author Poe Ballantine, has spent his entire life searching for truth and beauty in some of the most unlikely corners of our society. Through decades of wanderlust, depression, and desperation he has acquired a patina that glows with a bittersweet compassion. In the words of author and NPR commentator Marion Winik, “[Ballantine] proves that there is still a member of the beat generation wandering among us. [He] is unflappable, hilarious, and so observant of his fellow men and women that his half-cocked hobo lifestyle cannot be mistaken for anything but a spiritual path.” His perspective as a primary researcher, coupled with his singular outlook provides a uniquely qualified spiritual center for the film.

Indeed, the film takes much of its inspiration from the memoir by Poe, of which it shares a name. But through the course of production, my vision evolved into more than a documentation of Poe’s research or a rehashing of what’s included in his book. It pulled into its orbit the details of the journey that carried Poe to Chadron, as well as an examination of a small town “organism” in the flux following tragedy.

Chadron, Nebraska; a tiny, isolated, High Plains town functions as a microcosm for our society and the ways we react when forced to endure, without resolution, the horror of unexplainable tragedies. Through more than twenty interviews, the residents of Chadron become proxies for the viewer. Their backgrounds, experiences, and contemplations are woven into the narrative to provide color and augment the story. Their testimonies underscore one of the film’s principal themes: that in our world, fact and truth are frequently at odds.

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