Thursday, May 9, 2013

Hot Docs 2013 Film Review - The Life and Crimes of Doris Payne

Opening at a San Diego Courthouse we meet Jean a senior citizen who's best friend is on trial for theft of an emerald ring from a Macy's department store. Her friend Doris Payne who is 81 years old and could easily be anyone's sweet grandmother. This is where Directors Matthew Pond and Kirk Marcolina catch up with Ms. Payne and begin to tell her life story.

Doris Payne grew up in West Virginia in the segregated south, born to a black father and a Cherokee Mother. Here father was abusive to her mother and Doris often saw and heard the results of their fights. As a reward for good grades her mother agreed to buy Doris a new watch. She was in the jewellery store trying on various pieces when a white man entered the store and demanded that she leave. During the confusion and commotion as the distracted Jeweller complied and turned Doris out he forgot that she still had on an expensive watch. Doris alerted the Jeweller at the doorway. The incident was the chance event that started her method of thievery, midsection and distraction.

In a series of interviews Payne tells the stories of her greatest heists starting with trains trips to Chicago and New York for jobs then switching to flights to Japan, London and Monte Carlo to apply her craft. Doris Payne is a fascinating subject. She draws you in with a smile, turn of phrase or a gesture. An exceptional actress she could play any role required to get into a position where she was alone with a disarmed sales clerk with thousands of dollars with of Jewellery laid out for her to inspect. In addition to the interviews the Documentary features recreations to support the narrative.

The Directors do not always glamorize the subject. They show the real daily life of the 81 year old Payne complaining of breathing problems but still continuing to smoke. She is living in a half way house where she has to check in and out and shares a room with a roommate. Even at a local fair she checks out the trinket rings and cant help her nature and walks away with one in her pocket. They focus in on the fact that if she is found guilty and has to serve 5 years the verdict would be just about a death sentence for Payne at her advanced age with her current medical conditions. She has two children a son who has a history of drug problems and a daughter who agreed to be interviewed but her identity is kept hidden.

The Life and Crimes of Doris Payne is captivating look at a life long a jewel thief who is on trial for her life. Payne a masterful manipulator and charmer swears that she didn't do it and wants her day in court. She also claims to have stolen 2 million dollars in Jewellery and spent every penny. This is a documentary driven by the feisty personality of a singular individual and a film that I can recommend.

*** out of 4.

The Life and Crimes of Doris Payne | Matthew Pond and Kirk Marcolina | 2013 | U.S.A. | 73 Minutes.

2013 Hot Docs Film Festival.

Tags:  Crime, Jewel Theft, Segregation, Heists, Jet setting, Court Case.

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