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HBO Documentary 'The Jinx' Ends With Surprising Confession
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HBO Documentary 'The Jinx' Ends With Surprising Confession

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HBO Documentary 'The Jinx' Ends With Surprising Confession

HBO Documentary 'The Jinx' Ends With Surprising Confession
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In the bombshell finale Sunday night of HBO's six-part documentary "The Jinx," the film's subject, Robert Durst, appeared to confess to several murders. But observers of the HBO film have raised questions about some of the ethical choices made by its creators.

DON GONYEA, HOST:

HBO's six-part documentary series, "The Jinx," ended with a bombshell Sunday night. Its subject, Robert Durst, seemed to confess to murder. Today, Los Angeles prosecutors charged him with murder after he was arrested over the weekend. As NPR's David Folkenflik reports, Andrew Jarecki and the documentary's other producers have received widespread praise, but today, that was joined by criticism.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Joe Berlinger considers "The Jinx" a watershed moment in documentary film - a tremendous dramatic achievement. He's an accomplished filmmaker himself, yet, it gives him pause.

JOE BERLINGER: I, like Andrew Jarecki, like so many of my peers - we consider ourselves artists, filmmakers interested in cinema, but we're also investigators. And we also want to do good journalism. And I think there's a tension between those various disciplines.

FOLKENFLIK: Berlinger says he faced similar questions as he made three documentaries that ultimately helped to exonerate three Arkansas men convicted of murder, and he says that "The Jinx" inhabits the same gray area.

BERLINGER: When you have stylized re-creations of grisly moments - when you selectively withhold information for the right dramatic effect - you know, when you make yourself part of the story - we've gone down these roads.

FOLKENFLIK: Robert Durst basically volunteered for this documentary in 2010. Andrew Jarecki had made a lightly fictionalized film starring Ryan Gosling about the multimillionaire's wealthy family, his troubled marriage and the disappearance of his wife in the early 1980s, in which Durst was a prime suspect. Durst liked the movie and agreed to talk. In "The Jinx" he came off as troubled, duplicitous, controlling, oddly charismatic with an off-kilter logic all his own.

He was charged for murder in Texas, but was acquitted after claiming self-defense even though he dismembered the body. You did not know what he would say next, and no one expected him to say aloud what he said to himself at the end of "The Jinx."

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "THE JINX")

ROBERT DURST: There it is. You're caught.

FOLKENFLIK: As Durst ducked into a hotel bathroom while still wearing a microphone, he asked himself, what the hell did I do?

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "THE JINX")

DURST: Killed them all, of course.

FOLKENFLIK: Just to be clear, he answered his own question, killed them all, of course. Jarecki spoke earlier today to the host of "CBS This Morning." The second voice belongs to CBS's Jeff Glor.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "CBS THIS MORNING")

ANDREW JARECKI: And it wasn't until months later that we had an editor listening to material that we had just sort of left behind, thinking, well, now we've got to listen to everything we've got. We're about to finish the series. And we discover that we had this shocking piece of audio.

JEFF GLOR: The New York Times said two years. You said it was months later when you found it.

JARECKI: Many months.

FOLKENFLIK: Yet many journalists today at The New York Times, BuzzFeed and elsewhere started to challenge the account in the film. Had producers hyped the drama by burying key details of timing? When had Jarecki told police of handwriting evidence he had obtained that appeared to implicate Durst in the killing of his friend in California? When had he shared Durst's taped confession? Did he collaborate in the arrest? Again, Joe Berlinger.

BERLINGER: It's a triumph of this kind of genre, and the question that only Andrew Jarecki and Marc Smerling can answer is, you know, how long did they know it, and did they share that information with the right people? This is a person who could have killed again while he was not being arrested and while a television show was being completed.

FOLKENFLIK: This afternoon a top LA police official told The Los Angeles Times that the arrest had nothing to do with the HBO series. But the filmmakers weren't transparent about their interactions with police. Andrew Jarecki canceled an interview with NPR scheduled to take place this afternoon for this very program, saying he was likely to be called as a witness in the prosecution of Robert Durst. David Folkenflik, NPR News, New York.

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