Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofksy
The lives of the aging Ward brothers are upended when one is accused of murder.
Presented on the occasion of its 25th anniversary, Berlinger and Sinofsky’s acclaimed portrait explores the strange case of the 1990 death of 64-year-old William Ward, in small town Munnsville NY. Together with with his three brothers, known collectively to townsfolk as “the Ward Boys,” William had lived in poverty conditions for his entire life, and had been sick for quite some time. Despite what seemed to be a clear case of death by natural causes, his brother Delbert soon found himself accused of murder, and the case attracted national media attention. The larger Munnsville community rallied behind Delbert, despite having previously viewed the Ward Boys as outcasts, raising bail money to free him from jail. Adopting a direct cinema approach, the filmmakers follow Delbert and his brothers, listen as neighbors weigh in on the case, and chronicle the trial, including the theories the prosecutors come up with to explain the supposed murder, from mercy killing to incestuous crime of passion. Addressing issues of class, regionalism, and criminal justice, and at once engendering sympathy for their subjects yet careful to allow an ambiguity regarding what really happened, the film rightfully has left its mark as a seminal work of documentary filmmaking.