Vanessa Engle on Carl Beech: “I didn’t want to tell the story of a liar at the expense of real victims” | Documentary


TFilmmaker Vanessa Engle calls it ‘snap vagina’: female-centric cuddly toys that meet diversity goals, but it’s not the kind of documentary curators that brag about, and certainly is not about to participate in the price quotes. “You have a vagina,” Engle explains, explaining the concept, “the subject of the film has a vagina, so it has to be a movie to make.

“Do not mistake yourself. I am passionate about the subject of women. I have made many, many films about women that I have chosen for myself. But it’s only in the last couple of years that independents have started calling me and saying, ‘We have a film about women that needs a director’, or – I literally got it. people who told me that – “We need a female director, because it seems bad to us that we don’t have one!” “

We speak ahead of the release of his upcoming BBC Two documentary on Carl Beech, the fantasy convicted in July 2019 for fraud, legal abuse and child sex offenses, and sentenced to 18 years in prison. But the subject of female portrayal in the industry is on Engle’s mind – perhaps because she just found out that her 2019 film The $ 50 million Art Swindle has been nominated for a Grierson Award, the highest honor in making documentary films. This will be his eighth nomination, and yet Engle, who is 57, has never won a Grierson, or Bafta for that matter. “I’ll let you judge if it’s right to be ready eight times and never win it,” observes Engle.

The incredible story of Carl Beech examines the life of the man whose false allegations of a Westminster pedophile ring were busted by the now defunct investigative news site Exaro in 2014. Beech alleged that politicians, including the MP Conservative Harvey Proctor and former Home Secretary Leon Brittan, as well as former British Armed Forces chief Lord Bramall and Beech’s stepfather Raymond Beech, had sexually assaulted him as a child.

Operation Midland was initiated by the Metropolitan Police in 2014, after detectives viewed Beech as a credible accuser. It was a disaster, costing £ 2.5million without making a single arrest. Brittan died of suspicion in 2015, before his name could be cleared. Proctor said the allegations caused him to lose his job and home and resulted in “major depressive illness.”

The incredible story of Carl Beech: Beech in an interview with the police. Photography: BBC

When BBC Two approached Engle about making the film, she debated whether to say yes, fearing that the wider spread of Beech’s lies would make people skeptical when future survivors present allegations of abuse. “I didn’t want to tell the story of a liar at the expense of real victims of child sexual abuse,” she explains. But she decided to go, first, to show the damage Beech had done to legitimate victim-survivors who might now find it difficult to get their stories taken seriously.

And second, she says, because the Beech story seemed necessary to tell, in our time of social media-driven social justice movements, which can amplify allegations against public figures at warp speed, before that they cannot be properly examined by the authorities. Last month, Canadian singer Justin Bieber made headlines around the world after two Twitter users claimed to have sexually assaulted them in 2014 and 2015. On one of the nights in question, Bieber did not stay. at the hotel where her accuser claimed to have assaulted her. Bieber is now suing the two women for libel. “This is the open season for anyone to make a claim, this vile, unsubstantiated and proven false, about anyone without consequence,” reads Bieber’s lawsuit.

Beech’s story is an extreme example of what happens when allegations of abuse are taken at face value by police and press, and how that uncritical acceptance can destroy lives. “It’s an uplifting tale of the consequences of what happens when a wave of new social consciousness sets in, and it can kind of blind us, so that we are unable or maybe even afraid to handle things fairly. or objectively, ”Engle says. Part of the reason police were keen to take Beech at his word was that his allegations came soon after Jimmy Savile’s revelations, where horrific incidents of rape and abuse had been overlooked by police for decades. “Post Savile, post #MeToo, post Black Lives Matter, it seems very relevant now,” she says.

Perhaps the most moving scene in the documentary comes when Engle interviews the wife and daughter of Raymond Beech, Carl’s former stepfather. Beech’s daughter will not show her face on camera, even after her father’s name has been deleted. “Mud sticks,” she explains. A whey-faced Proctor is seen in the film saying a similar thing at a press conference shortly after Beech’s allegations became public. “I’m not a pedophile,” he insists as the cameras flash. “Even when you refute it,” Engle says of the allegations, “people say, ‘Oh, there’s no smoke without fire’. Even now people are saying that about this story. And you think, ‘Oh my God, how can you wash all that mud? It really matters to you. “

Why did Beech do it? The film suggests several motives: attention, money (he received compensation for the abuse, which he spent on a Ford Mustang.) “He had fantasies of wanting to be rich,” explains Engle, explaining that Beech, a nurse -manager in the NHS, putting her son in private school even though he could never have paid the school fees. “I think that’s what could have started him with the compensation claim. He was also an attention seeker. A more sinister motivation is uncomfortably suggested in the documentary, but never explicit.

This is Engle’s 60th film, or so, in her 32-year career as a director-producer – she’s lost count. She started making art documentaries for the BBC, before embarking on documentaries on a dizzying array of subjects: left-wing activists, Jews, people undergoing cosmetic surgery, female libbers and – perhaps his most beloved film – the dogs and their owners. Is there a connection theme in his work? “Yes,” Engle said quickly. “Belief systems is the simplest way I put it. What are our values ​​and our belief systems… that’s what I think underlie that. This is the theme I think I always come back to. “

Her 2015 film Love You to Death: a Year of Domestic Violence chronicled the women killed by partners or ex-partners in a year. Has Engle thought about women trapped at home with abusive partners during lockdown? She moans. “I really thought about it, yeah,” she says. “I’ve thought about it a lot… it’s horrible, what’s going on in lockdown. The idea that when women are locked up with their male partners it leads to an explosion of violence – the amount of misery and sadness, and the amount of dysfunction that reveals the relationship between men and women is truly alarming and very upsetting. . ”

Engle’s interview style is renowned for being straightforward, whether asking a female libber if she ever tried lesbianism in the ’70s, or persuading an ex-con to swallow a whole pickle on camera to show how he smuggled drugs across international borders. So I ask her a question that I think she would approve of: does she feel like she would be better known if she were a man? Although Engle is respected in the industry, she is not recognized by the general public. “My kids are now 20,” Engle says. “For 20 years I did my job and ran home to cook their tea or bathe them or put them to bed. And I think that makes you pretty invisible when everyone else is going to screenings, drinks, or industry events. As a woman, you are much less visible. “

The Incredible Story of Carl Beech airs August 24 at 9 p.m. on BBC Two


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