On the night of February 14, 2013, South African Paralympian Oscar Pistorius shot dead his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, through the bathroom door of his residence, claiming that he had mistaken her for an intruder.
Vaughan Sivell’s documentary Pistorius attempts to uncover the truth behind the much-debated crime and the heavily publicised trial. Pistorius was initially charged with culpable homicide, which was later changed to murder in 2015. His sentence was eventually increased to 13 years, more than double the original sentence of six years.
The story of Pistorius is a fall from grace unlike few others, Sivell told Scroll.in. The sprint runner competed in the Paralympic Games and Olympic Games with blades attached to the bottom half of his legs. His legs were amputated below the knees when he was 11 months old since he was born with longitudinal fibular deficiency.
“Every single person I meet knows who he is and want to know more about the trial,” Sivell said. “It is one of those things that we seem to have an insatiable appetite for as human beings. It is probably morbid curiosity, or Oscar sort of embodies the best and perhaps the worst of all of us. I think that is what makes him an iconic archetype or a character.” The documentary was premiered on Amazon Prime Video on September 6.
Sivell has previously directed Mr Calzaghe (2015), a documentary on Welsh boxer Joe Calzaghe, and was on the prowl for another interesting sporting personality. “The most successful athletes are often the most boring people,” the filmmaker said. “But Oscar Pistorius obviously has a hugely dramatic story. His defence team seemed to almost blame the state of South Africa, the rainbow nation that had crumbled down with tremendous poverty and horrendous crime rates, which lead Oscar Pistorius, a rich white man in that country, to sleep with a gun by his bed and hear a noise in the night and start shooting.”
Filmed nearly over three years since 2015, Sivell’s four-part documentary packs in interviews with Pistorius’s family members, friends and fellow athletes, as well as archival and fresh footage. “One of my producers, Sean Richard, spent an awful lot of time trying to get closer to the truth and studying all the court papers,” Sivell said. “The editing job was piecing together the entire mosaic of tiny fragments of evidence and archives and interviews of thousands of hours.”
Oscar Pistorius’s trial, which began on March 2014, was televised live and has been since dissected in the media. BBC Three has produced two documentaries on the athlete: Oscar Pistorius: What Really Happened? (2013) and Oscar Pistorius: The Truth (2014). An unauthorised American biopic, titled Oscar Pistorius: Blade Runner Killer, was released in 2017. Sivell’s documentary will present a new angle, the filmmaker contented.
“In those initial investigations, I found out what I thought I knew about the case was wrong,” the filmmaker said. “What really struck me was one of the appeal judges saying in the reading of his verdict that this story was a ‘tragedy of Shakespearan proportions’. And for someone like me, who is classically trained in the UK in theatre, everything is based on Shakespeare. This was a fall from grace unlike few others.”
The documentary will also go over the forensic details of the case, the filmmaker said. “I know that we are the only ones to have gotten into it with the forensic nature and diligence that we have,” Sivell added. “That obviously yields greater information and drama. The truth is dramatic enough. It really is stranger than fiction. It [the documentary] has a lot more in common with the O.J: Made in America documentary series, which we all have seen and is fantastic, than the other things I have seen about Oscar Pistorius.”
Maintaining objectivity and sensitivity were important, Sivell added. “The key thing there is that I wasn’t alone doing this,” he said. “One’s own emotions do sway back and forth. You are not in a vacuum. When people who think they know everything about the story will take the facts, it changes everything they think about that man and what happened that night. The key is getting to know the truth of it.”