Documentary channel

Oscar Pistorius documentary is ‘about the best and perhaps the worst of all of us’

Vaughan Sivell’s documentary is streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

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.

Vaughan Sivell. Courtesy Amazon Studios.
Vaughan Sivell. Courtesy Amazon Studios.

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.”

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Mr Calzaghe (2015).

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.”

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Pistorius (2018).
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People who fall through the gaps in road safety campaigns

Helmet and road safety campaigns might have been neglecting a sizeable chunk of the public at risk.

City police, across the country, have been running a long-drawn campaign on helmet safety. In a recent initiative by the Bengaluru Police, a cop dressed-up as ‘Lord Ganesha’ offered helmets and roses to two-wheeler riders. Earlier this year, a 12ft high and 9ft wide helmet was installed in Kota as a memorial to the victims of road accidents. As for the social media leg of the campaign, the Mumbai Police made a pop-culture reference to drive the message of road safety through their Twitter handle.

But, just for the sake of conversation, how much safety do helmets provide anyway?

Lack of physical protections put two-wheeler riders at high risk on the road. According to a recent report by the World Health Organisation (WHO), more than 1.25 million people die each year as a result of road traffic crashes. Nearly half of those dying on the world’s roads are ‘vulnerable road users’ – pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists. According to the Indian transport ministry, about 28 two-wheeler riders died daily on Indian roads in 2016 for not wearing helmets.

The WHO states that wearing a motorcycle helmet correctly can reduce the risk of death by almost 40% and the risk of severe injury by over 70%. The components of a helmet are designed to reduce impact of a force collision to the head. A rigid outer shell distributes the impact over a large surface area, while the soft lining absorbs the impact.

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Pillion rider safety has always been second in priority. While several state governments are making helmets for pillion riders mandatory, the lack of awareness about its importance runs deep. In Mumbai itself, only 1% of the 20 lakh pillion riders wear helmets. There seems to be this perception that while two-wheeler riders are safer wearing a helmet, their passengers don’t necessarily need one. Statistics prove otherwise. For instance, in Hyderabad, the Cyberabad traffic police reported that 1 of every 3 two-wheeler deaths was that of a pillion rider. DGP Chander, Goa, stressed that 71% of fatalities in road accidents in 2017 were of two-wheeler rider and pillion riders of which 66% deaths were due to head injury.

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This road safety initiative by Reliance General Insurance has taken the lead in addressing the helmet issue as a whole — pillion or front, helmets are crucial for two-wheeler riders. The film ensures that we realise how selective our worry about head injury is by comparing the statistics of children deaths due to road accidents to fatal accidents on a cricket ground. Message delivered. Watch the video to see how the story pans out.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Reliance General Insurance and not by the Scroll editorial team.